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Posts Tagged ‘Stinking Benjamin’

1. Coltsfoot

One colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) that I used to visit was washed away in a flood last year and another much larger colony was plowed up by a logging skidder, but I found more growing alongside a dirt road near here. The Tussilago part of the scientific name comes from the Latin tussis, meaning cough, and ago, meaning to cast or to act on. Coltsfoot was originally brought from Europe by early settlers, to be used to treat coughs. I remember being given Pertussin cough syrup as a boy, but I don’t know if it had coltsfoot in it. I hope not, because scientists have found that the plant can cause liver tumors.

2. Coltsfoot

If you aren’t sure if you have found coltsfoot or dandelions just look at the stems. Coltsfoot stems are scaly and dandelion stems are smooth. Another clue would be that coltsfoot doesn’t grow leaves until after the flowers fade.

3. Diurnal Lightning Beetle aka Ellychnia corrusca on a Beech Bud

I saw a bug on a beech bud and spent quite a while trying to identify him, with little luck. I was able to get as far as learning that he was a beetle before asking the folks at bugguide.net for help. In no time at all they told me that I had found a diurnal lightning beetle (Ellychnia corrusca), which is a winter firefly that doesn’t light up. What he does do is drink sweet tree sap and is known to be a bit of a pest to maple syrup makers.

4. Diurnal Lightning Beetle  aka Ellychnia corrusca on a Beech Twig

This beetle lives in the crevices of maple bark all winter, not leaving the tree until March. I’m not sure why he was on a beech. He crawled down the twig and turned to face me and there we were, eye to eye, each studying the other.

5. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

I used to drive for 45 minutes to see the one little colony of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) that I knew of. Of course, you never know when a plant will bloom so I made this pilgrimage once or twice a week until I saw the flowers. Then, late last summer, I found a large colony of these beautiful plants not 5 minutes from my house. Proof once again that what we have been trying so hard to find is often right in front of us.

6. Box Elder Flowers

Years ago my grandmother had a large box elder tree (Acer negundo) in her front yard. Box elders are considered a weed tree but they provide excellent shade and that’s what my grandmother was interested in. They are very prolific as you can see by the photo of the flowers, and each tree grows thousands of very viable seeds. The seeds used to fall beside the foundation walls of my grandmother’s house and grow into small trees, so every year she would pay me a quarter to go around the house and pull them all up. One year I pulled up what I thought was a particularly fine specimen and I took it home with me. By the time I got it home the roots had dried out but I dug a hole and planted it anyway. That tree grew faster than anything I had ever seen and, at about 7 or 8 years old, gave me my first hint that plants and I just might get along.

7. Bluets

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) have suddenly popped up in lawns. These flowers can range from nearly white to dark blue and each year I try to find the ones with the darkest color. Those in the above photo were much darker than those on nearby plants, so I chose them. Bluets are also, in my opinion, one of the hardest flowers there are to photograph. Rarely do I get a good sharp photo of them and on this day, 40 mile per hour wind gusts didn’t help.

8. Native Ginger Leaf

I was poking around in a spot where I know that our native wild ginger (Asarum canadense) grows, looking for signs of life, when I found this single new, very downy leaf unfurling. Though it might have been only minutes old and was hardly bigger than a mouse’s ear, an insect had already eaten a hole through it.

9. Magnolia Blossoms

Magnolia blossoms showed a tiny bit of browning from frost damage but they were still very beautiful, and fragrant enough to linger in memory long after the flowers were out of sight.

10. Trout Lily Bud

In a colony of tens of thousands of yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) I stumbled onto one that had a bud. Why does this plant have a bud while none of the others do? Does it get more sunlight? Is it something in the soil? These are the kinds of questions that helped fuel my interest in plants at an early age. The answers have been few but I don’t mind. It’s the mystery that puts the magic in life.

11. Spring Beauty

Eastern spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) appeared overnight as they always seem to do. At this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days and I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. As I do with bluets, I always try to find the flower with the deepest color. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The same doesn’t appear to be true for bluets because I find dark colored ones in full sun.

12. Female American Hazelnut Flowers

I wanted to take another try at getting a shot of a female American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) blossom, the smallest flower I know of. I think this one came out better than the one I showed here two or three posts ago. I measure the bud on that last plant with Vernier calipers and found it to be only four thousandths of an inch in diameter (.004”), just about the same size as a single strand of spaghetti. You have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find these tiny things.

13. Blood Root Opening

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) had just unfurled its leafy cloak when I found it. The first open bloodroot flower of the season always tells me that May can’t be far away because bloodroot waits to be sure that it is really spring before it shows itself. Native Americans used the blood red sap of its root for war paint. I’ve always wanted to see it I’ve but I’ve never been able to convince myself that it would be okay to destroy one of these plants just to satisfy my curiosity.

14. Purple Trillium

Though last winter was the coldest in 10 years I saw my first purple trillium this week. It has bloomed earlier than the trilliums did both last year and in the spring of 2012, even though that spring was the 4th warmest ever. Whenever you start to think that you have plants all figured out they do something totally unexpected to remind you that you don’t.

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is.
~Albert Einstein

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

1. Bloodroot

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

 2. Bloodroot

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

 3. Trout Lily

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

 4. Trout Lily

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

5. Trailing Arbutus Flowers

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

 6. Fly honeysuckle aka Lonicera canadense

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

 7. Spring Beauties

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

 8. Coltsfoot

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

 9. American Elm Flowers

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

10. Fiddleheads

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

 11. Bluets

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

 12. Trillium

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

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

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