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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Aquatic Plants’

In 1889 George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for a total of one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. It’s a 110-acre park located in the northeastern corner of Keene and it is a place that has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since. I decided to go there last weekend because it had been quite a while last time I had been there. On this day the pond surface was so calm it was a mirror, showing me twice the beauty.

In March I come here to see the coltsfoot that grow along the shoreline and in July I come to see the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) that grows just off the shoreline. Who needs a calendar? Or a clock for that matter; it’s the same here now as it was 50 years ago. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of pickerel weed and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant can form huge colonies in places and it gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) also grows along the shoreline, along with many other plants. In fact if I listed all the plants that grew here the list would be very long indeed. For a nature nut coming here is like visiting paradise. There are interesting things to see no matter where you look.

I once worked in a building that had outside lights on all night and in the morning when I got there the pavement would be littered with moth wings of all shapes and sizes. The wings were all the bats left after they ate the moths, I guessed. On this day I saw many wings floating on the surface of the pond. This was the prettiest. Bats eat many insects during the night, including mosquitoes and biting flies.

A frog meditated on an old plank. This told me that there were probably no great blue herons here this day. I see them here fairly regularly though, along with cormorants, and one winter there was an otter living in the pond.

There were many dragonflies here on this day, flying up out of the tall grass by the pond. I think this one is a widow skimmer but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

There is a trail that follows all the way around the pond but it gets rocky in places and there are lots of tree roots to trip over, so you have to watch your step. The trail wasn’t as empty as this photo makes it seem; I saw a few people walking. Some were fishing, some were sitting on benches and some, the littlest ones, were running and laughing, bursting with joy.

In two places seeps cross the trail. This one looked like a beautiful stream of molten sunshine. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer and this one stays just like this winter and summer. It never freezes solid and it never dries out.  

I saw many broken trees here. This red maple must have just fallen because its leaves weren’t wilted yet. The woodpecker hole tells the story; most likely the tree is full of insects and, if it had stood, it would probably have had fungi growing on it as well. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes fungi to appear on what’s left after it’s cut down.

A young white pine grew in the arms of a much older tree. Some of these pines can be hundreds of years old.

An older white pine has very thick, platy and colorful bark. But these are very common trees in these parts and I think few people notice.

Robin Hood park is a great place to find mushrooms and slime molds and with our recent rains I thought I might find a fungal bonanza but no, this was one of only two I saw and it was in sad shape.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) This example was easily 2 feet across at its widest point. They grow at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers. It causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest but they aren’t fungi. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up toward the sky.

This is what the flowers look like once they’re pollinated. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed and spore dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to the pipes they smoked.

This might not look like much but it is a rare sight. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. I’ve seen photos of the trees blossoming on other blogs but I’ve never seen it in person. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees. This forest must have once been full of them because I’ve found three or four young trees growing here. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins.

This tiny fern would easily fit in a teacup. It has been growing in a crack in this boulder for years, never getting any bigger. It gets a gold star for fortitude.

Something I’ve never been able to explain is the zig zag scar on this tree. I’ve shown it here before and blog readers have kicked around several ideas including lightning, but none seem to really fit. The scar is deep and starts about 5 feet up the trunk from the soil line. If it were a lightning scar I would think that it would travel from the top of the tree into the soil. I happened upon a large white pine tree once that had been hit by lightning very recently and it had a perfectly straight scar from its top, down a root, and into the soil. The bark had been blown off all the way along it. This tree shows none of that.

There are lots of stones here, some huge, but this one always catches my eye because it has a spear of either quartz or feldspar in it. I think, if I remember my geology correctly, that it would be called an intrusion or vein. Granite itself is considered an intrusive igneous rock.

For over half a century I have visited this place. I learned how to ice skate here and swam in the pool and fished in the pond. I listened to band concerts and camped in the woods and now I walk the trails and sit on the benches. It’s a peaceful place full of life and since the 1800s generations of children have come here to play and enjoy nature and many like myself have never really left. Time means little in such a place and this day might have been any of the other days I’ve spent here in the last 50+ years. I’ve done and seen much here but now I think I come here more for the serenity than anything else. I hope all of you have a place like this to go but it doesn’t matter if you don’t; bliss is a fruit always ready to be harvested, no matter where we happen to be.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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