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Posts Tagged ‘Spring’

I thought I’d start this flower post where I left off in the last one and show you pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in full bloom. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

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, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

There is only one way out for a bee trapped in a lady’s slipper blossom; 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.

For years I’ve heard of a very special place up in the woods of Westmoreland where endangered orchids, squawroot, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, maiden hair fern and other plants that love a lot of lime in the soil grow, so over Memorial day my daughter and I decided to pay this special place a visit. The terrain was rough, with climbs so steep you had to use ropes tied to trees to pull yourself along, but we made it through and didn’t see a single plant that was supposed to grow there. I did see a hepatica leaf, but that was about it. My daughter found this beautiful long spurred violet in bloom (Viola rostrata); the first example I’ve seen, but it isn’t even mentioned in the list of plants that are supposed to grow here.

This is a pretty little violet but I doubt I’d go through what we went through to see it again.

We also found a yellow violet just opening. This was only the second time I had ever seen one. I think it was a round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. It might have also been a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions.

Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer. Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

A close look at a chokecherry blossom.

Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid to late May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

From above the flowers of eastern larch look like a rose, but at less than the diameter of a pea they are far less showy. Each beautiful little flower will become a small brown cone.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) is caused by a layer of mirror flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I’ve been trying since they started opening and I’d bet I had to try 10-20 times before getting it right.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happens to be a phlox plant or two growing near the dame’s rocket and I thought it was good chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

The yellow flowers seen in the first photo of Dame’s rocket are those of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus.) Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles. If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but I’ve seen them with 5. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it.

Friends of mine grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. This is the first blossom of the summer, just opening when I took its photo.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, much like an Indian cucumber root. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned ground cover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe. I don’t see it often and I’d call it rare in this area.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

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It got to be sunny and hot for a change last Saturday so I sought out the natural cooling of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s usually about ten degrees cooler in there with almost always a bit of a breeze. After I spent some time in the man made canyon in the above photo I was wishing I had worn something a little warmer, so the natural air conditioner was working. Out there it was 80 degrees F. but in here it felt more like 60.

But that was in the deepest, darkest part of the trail. Once I found some sunlight it warmed to a more pleasant temperature.

I come here quite often at all times of year and each season has much beauty to offer. In spring there is an explosion of growth on the stone walls of the man made canyon, and it always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton. When I was a boy I dreamed of being a world traveling plant hunter who brought back exotic plants from far away places, and in my imagination many of those places looked a lot like this.

Groundwater drips constantly down the stone walls of the canyon and many hundreds of species of plants, mosses, ferns, grasses, liverworts and even trees grow on the stone walls, among them the marsh blue violets (Viola cucullata) seen here.

The violets also grow thickly all along the sides of the trail.

For every thousand blue violets there is a white one. Actually I can’t guess the numbers but white violets are scarce here.

Heart leaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) also grow here by the thousands. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and I always find them near water or growing in wet ground along rail trails. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as the ones found here are 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 strangest thing I saw on this trip was this dandelion stem, which had split in half and curled tightly on either side of the split. I can’t even guess how it might have happened.

I saw a very pretty white moth on a leaf. It had fringe on its wings and that fringe made it easy to identify as the white spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata,) which has a range from Newfoundland west to south-eastern British Columbia and south to Florida and Texas. It likes forest edges.

I saw an unusual flat, antler like fungus growing on a log. The log was down in one of the drainage ditches so I couldn’t get close to it. I haven’t been able to identify it and I wonder if it isn’t a badly degraded bracket fungus from last year. It looked relatively fresh but without touching it, it’s hard to tell.

One of the most unusual things growing here are these green algae, called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the algal cells called hematochrome or beta-carotene color the algae orange by hiding their green chlorophyll. It is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.

Something else unusual is a dandelion growing on stone. I think everyone knows that dandelions have taproots, so how does that work on stone? Maybe there is an unseen crack in the stone that the 4-6 inch long root grew into, I don’t know. Maybe the constant watering means the dandelion doesn’t need a taproot.

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along the trail. 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. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) also grows along the trail and there are lots of them here, now gone to seed. Coltsfoot is native to Europe and Asia and was brought here by early settlers. It has been used medicinally for centuries and another name for it is coughwort.

So many plants, so little time. The lushness of this place is really quite amazing. Except for the narrow trail nearly every square inch, be it horizontal or vertical, is covered with some type of growth.

One of the plants that grow here are the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) that grow on the stones by the thousands. This is the only place I’ve ever seen them and I think that’s because the conditions here are perfect for them. They like to grow in places where they never dry out and the constant drip of the groundwater makes that possible. They like to be wet but they can’t stand being submerged for any length of time so growing on the vertical walls above the drainage channels is ideal.

Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and there was lots of it.

This is one of the most beautiful liverworts in my opinion because of its reptilian appearance, which is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

One of the plants growing here that I wasn’t happy to see was garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata.) It’s an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to an article I read in the New York Times a few years ago, it’s delicious.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands so it was no surprise to see them growing in drifts as I left the canyon and moved into open meadows. It is said to be an important plant to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower is only about an eighth of an inch long and has five sepals, five petals, and five stamens. They’re also very difficult to get a good photo of, for some reason.

If I could walk through the canyon with my eyes closed it wouldn’t take too long to reach the old lineman’s shack but since I dilly dally and stop to look at anything that seems interesting and / or beautiful it usually takes a good two hours, so I’ve made what’s left of the shack my turn around point. Picked apart board by board over the years by those wanting to bridge the drainage ditches, it has become a symbol of strength and longevity for me, still standing and bearing heavy snow loads with only two walls left. It was certainly built to last; the the railroad came through here in the mid 1800s.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

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If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started 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 and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You can see where the name “gaywings” comes from in this photo. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the 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. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

I’ve never seen violets like we have this year!

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 the last two years, 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.

The flowers of rhodora usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but for the past couple of years they’ve been 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.

Another native azalea that can be hard to find in this area is called the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though 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.

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.

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. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5. This year I’m seeing lots of plants with three flowers, which is unusual. Usually most of them have only two.

This blossom didn’t live up to the 7 theory with 8 petals. It also has 8 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

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 unmowed, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared a little late this year and they seem smaller than usual. This plant is very easy to confuse with 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 purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one, which blooms in a local park, is an example of that same tree. I’ve also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. I had to zoom in on the blossoms quite far up in the tree while the wind blew them around so I’m kind of amazed that I even have this photo to show you. It’s a beautiful flower and well worth the effort.

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.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back whenever I smell them. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

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.

The spicy fragrance of poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) reminds me of the paper white narcissus, which has a fragrance strong enough to make some people sick, but I love it. Poet’s daffodil is a plant that comes with a lot of baggage; it is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields after most other daffodils have finished blooming.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It likes disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Here’s a sneak peak at the next flower post. One of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) just started to show color on their flowers as I was finishing this post. The moccasin shaped flowers start life colored a yellowish off white and then turn pink. I’m seeing lots of them this year and you’ll see more in the next flower post.

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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A cool damp spring like the one we’ve had can make New Englanders out of sorts sometimes and downright grumpy at other times, but a snowstorm in May can seem like a real slap in the face. Just as we were raking all the leaves we couldn’t get raked last fall because of November snows, along comes more snow on May 14th. Luckily this time we only saw about an inch but one year we saw about a foot of snow fall after the leaves had come out on the trees, and it caused an unbelievable amount of tree damage. I was still picking up fallen branches in July.

Luckily most of the leaves appeared after the snow had melted, so it was little bother.

Of course I watched the leaves appear. Beech leaves especially, are very beautiful in the spring. They look like little angel wings.

This photo shows how bud break progresses on a beech tree. Many people think one leaf comes out of each beech bud but in fact all of the current year’s growth for that branch is contained in a single bud. Here you can see at least 4 leaves coming from this bud. The branch will grow and elongate so the leaves are separated just enough so one doesn’t block the sunlight falling on another; just one of the many miracles of nature that so many never see.

A new beech leaf retains its silvery hairs for just a very short time so you have to watch closely to catch it. I try not to offer much advice to the readers of this blog but I know that what works for me might work for others so as I have said before; try to find joy in the simple things in life, because if you do joy will follow you wherever you go. When you find yourself passing up just about anything else to watch the unfurling of a leaf or to sit beside a giggling stream you’ll know you are there. And you’ll want to stay.

Beech isn’t the only tree growing leaves in spring of course. Oak leaves usually start life in some color other than green like red or purple, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them wearing white.

Maple trees also have leaves that open to something other than green; usually red or orange if it’s a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If it’s cold or cloudy as the new leaves emerge they’ll stay in their non green state but sunlight and warmth will eventually coax the tree into producing chlorophyll and they green up quickly so they can start photosynthesizing and making food.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be beautiful in the spring; beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’ll be sorry. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it somehow and I’ve been itching for a week. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

There are a few evergreen trees in a local park that produce beautiful purple cones in spring and this is one of them. It’s a spruce tree but I don’t know its name. It’s needles are very stiff and sharp and I actually drove one of them into my finger when I was trying to get this photo.

Many plant parts are purple in spring, including flowers like those on what I believe is sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum.) Grasses can be very beautiful and I hope everyone reading this walks a little slower and looks a little closer so they can see them.

I thought these new tall meadow rue leaves (Thalictrum pubescens) edged in purple were very pretty. This is a fast growing plant which will tower over my head and be blooming on the fourth of July with little orange tipped white flowers that look like bombs bursting in air.

Right after I told Jerry at the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog that I hadn’t seen any butterflies I started seeing them, and that’s the way this blogging thing always seems to work. I don’t dare tell you it will be sunny tomorrow because if I did it would surely rain. Anyhow, this eastern swallowtail landed in a bare spot in a lawn I was standing on and I noticed that it had a large piece of its left wing missing. It was a close call because whatever took its wing just barely missed its body. I’m guessing a bird got it.

By the way, you can find Jerry’s blog over there on the right in the “favorite links” section and you should, because it’s a great nature blog that I’ve enjoyed for many years.

An ant was on a dandelion blossom but when I went to take its photo it crawled off onto a nearby leaf. I never knew they were so hairy.

This swamp is where I find many of the spring ephemeral flowers that you see on this blog. Goldthread, trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, dwarf ginseng and others grow here. Great blue herons nest here and many types of ducks visit, but they’re very wary and almost impossible to get a good shot of.

Many ferns also grow around the swamp in the previous photo. This cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) was unfurling beautifully one recent day. It’s hard to believe this little thing will be waist high in just a short time.

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs, but I don’t think I’ve ever found them in May. This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) are easy to confuse with chanterelle wax caps but they have a dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem and these mushrooms didn’t have that. Chanterelle wax caps have pale yellow gills that run down the stem. They also have occasional short gills, which means they stop short of the stem. Both features can be seen in this photo.

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) swamp is green with new leaves. Many thousands of plants grow here as they have for who knows how many hundreds or even thousands of years.

I love the spring green of the forest floor seen here. It’s hard to tell but the green comes from many thousands of wildflowers, including sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia.) This forest along the Ashuelot river is where I come to find them each spring.

I also visit the Ashuelot River to watch the buds of shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) break each spring. They’re one of the most beautiful things seen in a New England forest in spring in my opinion, and I wouldn’t miss their opening. I’ve always thought this tree liked lowlands but I recently saw them growing high on a hillside in a hardwood forest.

Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time. I hope you’ll take that time, if you can.

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’re seeing a little more sunshine and warmth now finally and sun loving plants like winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) have started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed but in other places it is eaten much like spinach. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content.

Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name. It is also one of the first flowers to bloom in our meadows.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many flowers on blueberry bushes as there are this year. Both highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) and lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) blueberries are loaded and if all these flowers become berries we’ll have a great year. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, the others being Concord grapes and cranberries, but the crabapple is a fruit which is also native so I disagree with that line of thought. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used them medicinally, spiritually, and as food. One of their favorite uses for them was in a pudding made of dried blueberries and cornmeal.

This is the first time a peach blossom has appeared on this blog and it’s also the first time I’ve looked at one closely. This one blooms on a tree where I work. This is s a poor shot of a very pretty flower, but I was on a tractor when I took it.

Pears are also blossoming. This tree grows in the garden of friends of mine.

Hawthorns (Crataegus) have also just opened. I like their showy anthers. The 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. 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.

The red trilliums (Trillium erectum) are loving the cool damp weather and have gone on and on but they can’t go on forever and most of the ones I’ve seen lately are well past their prime. This is the first of three trilliums that bloom here in the immediate area. It shouts “Spring is here!” to me each year and I love seeing it.

If red trilliums shout then nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) whisper. The flowers open beneath the leaves almost like a mayapple and they can be very hard to see, even when you’re standing right over them. This one grew on a slight rise so its flower was almost at eye level and that made it easier to spot.

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. 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. At barely 6 inches from the ground there isn’t a lot of room for a camera.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) are another plant with flowers that look to the ground but since I like the bronze color on their backs I don’t try too hard to get a photo of their fronts. It’s time to say goodbye to this early spring friend but they’ve had a long bloom time this year. If pollination was successful on a trout lily plant a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

Here is a mystery flower that I hope someone can put a name to. It was found growing near a swamp but I have a feeling it might be a garden escapee. I’ve looked in several wildflower books and haven’t seen it. It reminds me of some type of fruit like a dewberry but it isn’t that.

Here is the foliage of the mystery plant. It looks very familiar and reminds me of spirea, but I know it isn’t that. The stems are fall over weak and not woody, and if it could stand upright it would be about 2-3 feet tall.

The flowers on the mystery plant grow in a raceme about 8 inches long and in this view they remind me even more of flowers that would precede a fruit. If you know what this one is I’d love to hear from you.

It can take quite a long time to identify small yellow flowers so I usually pass them by for this blog, but these cinquefoils are blossoming all over right now. I think it might be a spring cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. It’s pretty, whatever its name is, and I know a place where hundreds of them bloom.

The flowers of invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) hang down below the leaves just like its berries do. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

The flowers of Japanese barberry grow in pairs just as you would expect if you ever saw the paired berries dangling from the stem in the fall. Birds love the fruit and that’s why this plant has been so successful.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, but if you very carefully bend the stem back you can often get a fairly decent photo. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but I’ve seen these plants bloom well for a few years now. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the mayapple plant.

Can you see all the white flowers blooming under the hand size umbrella-like mayapple leaves? I didn’t think so. Neither could I until I got my chin on the ground.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in the forests of eastern Asia and they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They were collected from the wild and grown in pots in China for centuries before being successfully transported to and grown in England in 1846 by plant hunter Robert Fortune. From there they have spread throughout the world. Bleeding hearts will 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.

Friends of mine grow hellebores and theirs are the only ones I’ve seen in this entire area, and that’s too bad because as you can see that they’re very beautiful flowers. For a while I didn’t think I’d see them this year; I checked and checked and there was no sign of new growth but then finally there they were, almost a full month later than last year. Last year I posted a photo of this beautiful thing on May 2nd, which means that it bloomed toward the end of April. That says a lot about the cool, damp weather we’ve had. Still, I have noticed that once a plant blooms in this weather they often have an extended bloom time, so maybe these flowers will last.

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

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John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

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I thought I’d illustrate our weather by showing these grape hyacinths, which should be done blooming by now. I saw the first ones blooming just a little over a month ago. Other bulbs like tulips and daffodils are also still blooming so they must be enjoying the cool, damp weather.

Trees with white flowers are everywhere and this one happens to be an apple tree. I think many people are surprised to learn that apple trees are not native to the United States. They have all come from old world stock brought over in the 1600s. Apples from Europe were grown in the Jamestown colony and the first non-native apple orchard was planted in Boston in 1625. Only the crab apple is native to this country and they were once called “common” apples. The Native American Abenaki tribe called them “apleziz” and used them for food as well as medicinally.

But it doesn’t matter where apples come from, because the fragrance is wonderful. Apple blossoms were one of my grandmother’s favorites and I remember bringing her arm loads of flowering branches when I was a boy. They were all you could smell in her house for days after.

Few of us think of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) as a wildflower but it is actually native to the forests of North America. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and April’s “pink moon” got that name from the way the “moss pinks” bloom in that month. It’s a plant that loves growing in lawns and luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed. Even so many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Individual creeping phlox flowers are quite pretty but I doubt many people bother to look at them. They see the mass display but not the individuals responsible for it.

Pin cherry flowers (Prunus pensylvanica) are quite pretty and are pollinated by several kinds of insects. They become small, quarter inch bright red berries (drupes) with a single seed which are also called bird cherries. The berries are said to be very sour but edible and are used in jams and jellies, presumably with a lot of sugar. Native Americans used the berries in breads and cakes and also preserved them and ate them fresh. The bark of the tree was used medicinally for a large variety of illnesses including coughs, stomach pains and as a burn salve.

I can remember picking lilacs for my grandmother on Mother’s day but not this year. I’d guess that they’re close to two weeks late. So far this small flower head is the only one I’ve seen but that’s probably because of the cool wet weather. We had a dusting of snow yesterday morning so if it’s cold enough to snow it’s cold enough to keep those buds closed. This one was small in size but not in fragrance. It’s great to smell lilacs again.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have jumped up almost over night. This beautiful dark one was the first I’ve seen. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Just after many other magnolias lose their flowers this one with tulip shaped flowers starts blooming. Its name is “Jane” and though I’m not crazy about the flower shape I love its color. It’s later bloom time means less chance of damage by frost.

Vinca (Vinca minor) has come into full bloom now. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods, still blooming beautifully 200 years after it was first planted. You can often find huge colonies of it near old cellar holes. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

The word “sessile” in the name describes how the leaves of a sessile leaved bellwort lie flat against the stem, with no leaf stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end.

A forest floor carpeted with sessile leaved bellworts makes an unforgettable sight. Many tens of thousands of them grow along the Ashuelot River in Keene.

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) plants have three leaflets on each compound leaf and together form a whorl of three compound leaves around the stem. The plants are very small; each one would fit in a teacup with plenty of room to spare. Dwarf ginseng is very choosy about where it grows and will only grow in undisturbed ground in old hardwood forests. It is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine but it is quite rare in my experience, so it should never be picked.

Each dwarf ginseng flower head is about the size of a malted milk ball, or about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Individual flowers are about 1/8 inch across and have 5 bright white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. In a good year the flowers might last 3 weeks, and if pollinated will be followed by tiny yellow fruits.

Pulmonaria usually has green leaves splotched with silver but this one I saw in a local park must be a new hybrid. Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions.

The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

I finally saw the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) blooming and thankfully Ii was a nice uneventful hike out to see them. I’ve found that my bear encounter of a couple of weeks ago has taken a lot of the shine off this hike. It’s hard to relax when you know you need to be on your guard.

But as always the columbines were beautiful and I lost myself in them for a while. I took shot after shot, trying to get the best view I could. Much like people flowers have a best side, and your job as a nature photographer is to find it. If you want to really see nature like you’ve never seen it before, look at it through a camera lens.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

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