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Posts Tagged ‘St. John’s Wort’

It has been so hot and dry here lately some of the lawns have gone crisp and make a crunching sound when you walk on them, but there was a single dandelion blooming on one of them all the same. I was surprised to see it because dandelions rest through the hottest part of the summer and don’t usually bloom until it gets cooler in fall. I hope this isn’t the last one I see this year. It’s a cool rainy day as I type this, so maybe that will convince more of them to blossom.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) is still blooming in lawns everywhere I go. This plant is also called self-heal and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Native Americans drank tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed it improved their eyesight. The tiny orchid like flowers look like a bunch of little mouths, cheering on life.

Bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) grows in the shade away from the hot sun but it has still been hot enough even there to melt all of the wax crystals from its stems. It is this natural wax coating, the same “bloom” found on plums and blueberries, that makes the stems blue and without it this looks like many other goldenrods, and that makes them a little harder to identify. Luckily these examples are old friends and I know them well, so there is no doubt.

I think this was an example of the bushy American aster (Symphyotrichum dorsum) which has small blue flowers and looks much like the small white American aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) in size and growth habit.  Each flower is about a half inch across and plants might reach waist high on a good day, but they usually flop over and lean on the surrounding plants as this one has. It likes dry, sandy fields and that’s exactly where I found it growing.

I found a tiny, knee high bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) with a single flower head on it, in a color that I’ve never seen it wear before. It had a lot of white in it and bull thistle flowers are usually solid pinkish purple. It is also called spear thistle, and with good reason; just look at those thorns.

Here’s another look at the bull thistle flower head. I’ve never seen another like it. I wonder if it’s some sort of natural hybrid. Or maybe, because it is so loose and open, I’m just seeing parts of it I haven’t seen before.

I was surprised to find creeping bellflowers (Campanula rapunculoides) still blooming. This pretty flowered plant was introduced as a garden ornamental from Europe and escaped to find nice dry places in full sun, which it loves. It’s usually finished blooming by the time the goldenrods start but this year it looks as if this plant will outlast them. It’s a plant that is very easy to identify, with its pretty blue / purple bell shaped flowers all on one side of its stem.

I don’t know if it’s the unusual hot temperatures we’ve had or if there is another reason but I’m seeing a lot of summer flowers that I shouldn’t be seeing now, like this St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum.) It usually blooms in June and July and should be long since done by now but I guess it can do whatever it wants. In any event it’s a pretty thing and I was happy to see it. Originally from Europe, St. Johnswort has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It likes to grow in open meadows in full sun.

Yet another plant that I was surprised to find still blooming was purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) This plant is in the rose family and has flowers that are 2 inches across and large, light gathering leaves that it needs to grow in the shade. It usually blooms in July for about 3 weeks but I was happy to see it in September.

At about 2 or 3 times the size of a standard raspberry the berry of the purple flowering raspberry looks like an extra-large raspberry. It is said by some to be tart and dry but others say it tastes like a raspberry if you put it on the tip of your tongue. This was an important plant to the Native Americans. They had over 100 uses for it, as both food and medicine.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July and is usually finished by now, but you can still see them here and there. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name. I learned just this year that monarch butterflies love these flowers.

Most purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) plants stopped blooming weeks ago so I was surprised to find one still blooming. This is an invasive perennial that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere. It’s hard to deny its beauty, especially when you see a meadow full of it growing alongside yellow goldenrods, but the plant chokes out natives including goldenrod and creates monocultures.

I was also surprised to see an ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) blooming but that’s one of the great things about nature study; there is always another surprise right around the next bend. I’m always grateful to be able to see and smell flowers but even more so in at this time of year because it is then, when they really shouldn’t be blooming, that I remember what a great gift they are. The plant came over from Europe in the 1800s but is much loved and many believe it to be a native.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) still blooms here and there but it’s pretty well finished for this year. Its final act will be to drop millions of seeds before it dies back completely until spring. This plant was brought to Europe from Japan sometime around 1829. It was taken to Holland and grown in nurseries that sold it as an ornamental. From there it found its way across the Atlantic where we still do battle with it today. It is one of the most invasive plants known and the only plant I have ever seen overtake it is purple loosestrife, which is also an invasive weed. Japanese knotweed is also a tough plant that is very hard to eradicate once it has become established.

Japanese knotweed does have pretty flowers but they aren’t enough to convince people that it’s a plant worth having on their property. It can take over entire yards when left alone.

Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) bloomed in a local children’s butterfly garden. This plant gets its common name from its powerful fragrance that is said to chase away bugs when bouquets of its long racemes are brought inside. Other names for it include black snakeroot and black cohosh. Native Americans used it for centuries to treat pain, fever, cough, pneumonia, and other ailments. They also taught the early European settlers how to make a tonic from the plant to boost women’s reproductive health; a kind of spring tonic.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much loved, old fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pastel pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

I never thought I’d see chicory (Cichorium intybus) blooming in September but here they were on the roadside and I was happy to see them. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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1. Black Eyed Susan

Few flowers say summer to me like the black eyed Susan, but they always whisper of summer’s passing too, and tell me that summer is fleeting, and I’d better get out there and enjoy it before the crisp winds of fall start to blow. Though it’s actually an early summer flower, I always think of it as a fall flower because of its very long blooming season. These flowers will often still be blooming when we see the first hard frost, several months after they’ve started.

2. Black Eyed Susan

A spider had built a web on this black eyed Susan. Nothing unusual about that but I wondered why it was yellow. Can the color somehow come off the petals, I wonder?

3. Campion

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It was pretty, whatever it was.

4. Tradescantia

I used to see spiderwort plants (Tradescantia) growing wild everywhere when I was a boy. I thought they were beautiful and used to dig them up from along the railroad tracks to plant at home. My father also saw them growing along the tracks and he called them weeds, so he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home” and planting them in the yard. Now every single time I see the plant I think of him. I also understand how one man’s flower can be another man’s weed.

Apparently our early settlers thought tradescantia was beautiful too, because it was introduced into Europe as an ornamental in the 1600s. Since it can be a bit weedy I wonder if it has become an invasive there.

5. Purple Tradescantia

I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that plant breeders had been working on tradescantia and had created a purple variety. Personally I prefer the blue that I grew up with, but the purple flowers seem do to attract more insects. At least they did on this day when I was watching the blue and purple flowers in a local park.

6. Elderberry

American elder (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) was highly valued by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities and it has been found that their uses of the plant closely parallel the ways that Europeans used their elder (Sambucus nigra.) Both old and new world people used the plant for everything from an emetic to a treatment for headache. Hippocrates is said to have referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest,” and it appears that modern medicine is finally catching up with him; the National Institutes of Health has given five universities a total of $37.5 million for a five-year study exploring possible medical benefits of elderberries, including its use in fighting prostate cancer. I don’t have much taste for alcohol these days but if I can find a bottle of good elderberry wine I might drink a small glassful each night before bed. It can’t hurt, as long as it was made from the berries and not the plant’s poisonous roots.

7. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

8. Rattlesnake Weed

I can’t think of many plants that are rarer in this area than the native rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) I know of one plant and this is it. As you might suspect from its flowers it is in the hawkweed family, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Its flowers stand at the end of long wiry stems so it’s usually impossible to get both the flowers and leaves in one photo but this time I was able to do it. Its purple veined leaves don’t show that well but they are very unusual, as the following photo will show.

9. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

One story says that because people thought its foliage resembled a snake’s skin, rattlesnake weed was a cure for snakebite. I’ve also heard other stories that say the name comes from the plant’s habit of growing in places where snakes were seen. It’s hard for me to believe that such a rare plant is considered an invasive weed in some places, but it is.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Every time I see its flowers they’re covered in ants but curiously this time they were absent. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known and used medicinally since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. The perforatum part of its scientific name refers to the many clear dots on its leaves that look like pin holes when its leaf is held up to the light. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in 1696 to Pennsylvania by a religious group who believed that it held magical properties. Today it can be found in all but 4 of the lower 48 states; Utah, Arizona, Alabama, and Florida. In all of the others it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

12. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that might get ankle high on a good day and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference apart from their smaller size is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. I find them growing at the edge of a local pond and soak my knees every time I try to take a photo of them. It’s worth it though because they’re beautiful little things.

13. Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies visiting them yet. I was going to write about how complicated these flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated that I got lazy and instead will just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll just enjoy their beauty and their scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

14. Rose

Roses are adding their perfume to the sweet smell of summer and I smelled this bush full of tender pink blossoms before I saw it. I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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