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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Plants’

It’s goldenrod time here in this part of New Hampshire and though our first goldenrod to appear is usually gray goldenrod this year the first one I’ve seen is what I believe to be early goldenrod (Solidago juncea.) I love to see the fields full of beautiful yellow flowers but goldenrod to me means fall is knocking on the door, so my love of the color is tempered a bit with a wistful sense of summer’s passing.

Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) always looks like the wind has blown all the flowers to one side of the stem, and it usually leans in the direction of the flowers. It has just started blooming while I was working on this post.

Though goldenrod gets blamed for all of the sneezing and watery eyes at this time of year ragweed, like the plants shown here, are what really cause many allergic reactions. Pollen grains that cause hay fever symptoms are very small and dust like and carried by the wind, and those are found on plants like ragweed. The pollen grains of goldenrod are large, sticky, and comparatively heavy and can only be carried by insects. Even if you put your nose directly into a goldenrod blossom, it is doubtful that you would inhale any pollen. But because people see goldenrod blooming everywhere and they don’t see the ragweed, goldenrod gets the blame. People seem to focus their anger on what they believe rather than on fact, and some refuse to accept the truth even when it’s right in front of them. I’ve had people actually tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about when I told them that goldenrod wasn’t making them sneeze.

July is the month pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) appears. The plant gets its common name from its foot tall stems full of small, pale blue to almost white flowers. The examples shown here certainly looked white to me but they grew side by side with dark blue ones. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because too much of it can kill.

Pale spike lobelia flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Each flower has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blueish stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. It looks like the two lobes on the upper lip of this example were having trouble unfolding but that was alright; it’s obvious that an insect wouldn’t have any problem finding what it was looking for. I love all flowers but the tiny ones that make you crawl in the grass and do some work to see them are often quite exceptional, and always worth the effort.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) has just started blooming, with tiny flowers appearing on rather large, foot and a half tall plants. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large yellow and purple, 3 part lower lip where insects can land. From there insects can follow purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

One of the first plants, if not the first, that my grandmother taught me was teaberry, also called American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens.) This low growing, 4 inch tall plant is actually considered a shrub, because its woody stems persist through winter. Its blueberry like flowers will turn into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and chewed the leaves when they went on long hikes.

The nodding, waxy, cup shaped flowers of the shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) have appeared, and the plants appear to be having a good year. This native plant is plentiful in pine woods and grows near trailing arbutus and pipsissewa. The greenish white petals look waxy and sometimes will have greenish veins running through them. These plants were always thought to be closely related to the wintergreens because their leaves stay green all winter, but DNA testing now puts them in the heath (Ericaceae) family. The plant’s crushed leaves were applied to bruises in the form of a paste or salve by Native Americans and the aspirin-like compounds in the leaves would ease pain. Such pastes were called “shin plasters,” and that’s how the plant got its strange common name.

The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf are unmistakable, even on its winter seedpods.

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) has my favorite wintergreen foliage because in winter it often turns deep purple where the darker green is on the leaf. This plant is also rare here, though I’ve seen this particular colony grow from one or two plants to about 15 in the ten years I’ve been visiting it. It’s hard to tell from a photo but these plants are so well camouflaged that I have looked right at them many times and not seen them. The flowers stand out and help me locate them though, so I begin looking for them in mid-July. They are also called spotted wintergreen though I’ve never understood why. I’ve never seen a spot on them.

The flower of striped wintergreen has 5 petals that are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It has 10 anthers and its big style is very blunt. I’m hoping that tiny insect on the blossom is pollinating this plant. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love).

My favorite wintergreen flowers are found on pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) because they seem to be the showiest and often have a blush of pink, and because it’s just a fun word to say. This plant grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. The word pipsissewa is said to mean “it breaks stones in the body into small pieces” in the Native Cree tribe language and refers to its ability to dissolve kidney stones. This photo shows the backs of the flowers which are just as pretty as the front. An ant was visiting at the same time I was.

Pipsissewa flowers have the 5 petals, 10 anthers and large style that are so common among many wintergreens. They also wear a little pink skirt at the base of the big style, which makes them even prettier. They stand about 4-6 inches tall.

Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) always look purple to me but this one looked very pink, and even had a splash of red. I’ve never seen another one like it.

Rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) always catches a lot of dew but on this morning it had caught raindrops. These plants are annuals which, judging by how many plants grow and blossom each year, must produce a fair amount of seed. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia but nobody seems to know when, how or why. I like the way it forms pink ribbons along our roadsides.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers seem to turn into fruit so fast that you can almost see it happen as you stand there watching. Those in the photo, now green, will eventually become black, shiny, poisonous berries. Pokeberries have long been used as a source of ink-the United States Constitution was written in ink made from them. Native Americans used to make a red dye from the berries that they used to decorate their horses. Many pokeweed plants have vivid purple stems but these were green and white.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Here is a pokeweed plant I found growing in a forest recently. It was about 5 feet tall with many large, light gathering leaves. Those big leaves are why it can grow in such low light. This plant might have gotten only an hour of direct sunlight each day.

Native to Europe, perennial or everlasting peas (Lathyrus latifolius) have found a home by the outflow stream of a local pond. They are a garden escapee that have been grown in this country since the 1700s, and are now considered invasive in some areas. I find them in exactly one spot here so I wouldn’t call them wide spread. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall. The small pink, pea like flowers are very pretty, though this year they seem to have been stunted or slightly deformed somehow.

Another native plant in the pea (legume) family has just started blossoming. Pointed leaved tick trefoil  (Hylodesmum glutinosum) is a plant that doesn’t mind shade and I find them blooming at the edge of a local forest; the only spot I’ve ever seen them. The flower spike can reach over three feet tall but often lays over onto surrounding ferns and other plants. It rises about two feet out of the leaves and carried about six or seven flowering branches on this particular plant.

Here is a shot of the very pointed leaves.

You have to look closely to see the slightly curved white pistil rising from the keel of the pointed leaved tick trefoil flower. I can’t think of another flower in the pea family exactly like it. They are bright purplish pink, stalked flowers clustered in long straight spikes (racemes.) It’s easy to see that they’re in the pea family but unlike some pea flowers, the reproductive parts are not completely hidden. The white pistil rises up and out of the keel. If pollinated each flower will grow into a green, flat seed pod with 2 or 3 jointed triangular segments that are very sticky. The seed pods will even stick to bare skin and they are where the “tick” in tick trefoil comes from.

I found a colony of long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia) a few years ago and each year there were more flower spikes until last year when they started declining. This year there were even fewer plants, so I’m not sure how much longer it will appear on this blog.  I’d never seen it growing in the wild until I found it here. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and grows on steppes, grassy mountain slopes, meadows at forest edges and birch forests. Here in the U.S. it is commonly found in gardens but it has obviously escaped. It certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes. Another very similar plant is Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) but culver’s root doesn’t grow naturally in New Hampshire.

You cannot perceive beauty but with a serene mind ~ Henry David Thoreau

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On a recent hot, humid day I thought a rail trail might be a rather effortless walk so I chose one I knew well. When I started walking here some 50+ years ago trains ran through what now looks like a jungle. The railroad would never have put up with so much growth on the sides of the railbed of course, but I kind of like it this way. I was to find out that a little bit of everything grows here now, and the time spent here was full of discovery. This trail has become popular with bicyclists and I was passed by quite a few.

I saw lots of hazelnuts (Corylus americana.) Hazelnuts are a common sight along our rail trails but they have good years and bad years and more often than not there are no nuts on the bushes. On this day though, they were everywhere.

If you turn the nut cluster and look at the back you can see and feel the unripe nuts inside. There were four in this cluster.

Fringed loosestrife grew in shaded places along the trail. Note how virtually every flower nods toward the ground. As far as I know this is the only one of our yellow loosestrifes with this habit. Whorled loosestrife looks identical at a glance, but its flowers face outward.

A vine I never saw when I was a boy and saw only in one spot just a few years ago is spreading enough so now I’m seeing it almost everywhere I go. It is the smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea.) This native, non woody vine gets its common name from the strong odor of its flowers. There are both male and female plants, and they usually grow near each other.

The flowers of the smooth carrion flower vine become dark blue berries that birds love and I would guess that accounts for it quickly spreading from place to place as it has. The berries on this vine were still green but I would guess that they’ll be ripe by the end of July.   

Common mullein surprised me by growing along the trail. I’ve always wondered if the railroad didn’t spray some type of herbicide along the tracks because you never would have found plants like mullein growing here back when the trains ran. There were an awful lot of raspberries and blackberries back then though, but now all I see are canes with no berries. Raspberries and blackberries bear fruit only on second year canes so I’m guessing the young canes I’ve seen here are being cut. Possibly by a snowmobile trail improvement crew.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew all along the trail and had large flower heads all ready to bloom. You can see how smooth and hairless its stems are in this photo. They are also a bluish color when young. This is another plant I don’t remember ever seeing here when I was a boy.

Here is a smooth sumac flower, just opened. They are so small I really doubted that I’d be able to get a useable photo of them. They look quite complicated for such a small thing.

While smooth sumac was just starting to bloom staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) had already formed fruit. I didn’t know that sumac berries went from green to pink before they became red.

Some of the things I remember most about this place when I was a boy are the cornfields, most of which are still here. More or less; last years drought killed off the young corn plants and for the first time that I can remember there was no corn growing here. This year in spring I came out here and found wheat growing in this field, as far as the eye could see. Wheat? I didn’t know what that was all about but they’ve cut all the wheat and are leaving this part of the field fallow, apparently. Off in the distance you can just make out corn growing, about a third of the way up in this photo. Why they didn’t plant the whole field I don’t know but the corn that is there was knee high by the fourth of July, and that’s perfect.

Here is the wheat I found a couple of months ago. It is actually triticale according to Google lens, which is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (​Secale) first developed in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany. If the word triticale (trit-ih-KAY-lee) rings a bell you might have seen an original Star Trek episode called “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Everyone knew what triticale was except captain Kirk, and the tribbles ate all the poisoned triticale and saved the day.

I kept taking photos of the trail because I couldn’t believe how jungle like it has become. I dreamed of being a plant hunter in the world’s jungles when I was young, so I would have loved this. Back then though, this corridor was at least twice as wide.

There are things to watch out for in any jungle and on this day it was stinging nettle (Urtica dioica.) The Urtica part of the scientific name comes from the Latin uro, which means “I burn.” The hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems are called trichomes and act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that cause the stinging.

Buttery little sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) likes waste places and disturbed ground so I wasn’t really too surprised to see it here. I was surprised that it got enough sunlight to bloom though.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) bloomed weakly. Since it starts blooming in June I was surprised to see any flowers at all. I took this shot this way specifically so you could see the plant’s leaves. In early spring a lot of people confuse this plant with wild columbine, though the leaves are quite different.

What surprised me more than anything else I saw was a Canada lily (Lilium canadense) blooming beside the trail. This is something I would have remembered had I seen them here years ago. These plants are one of our biggest wildflowers. They can reach 7 feet tall and have as many as 10 flowers dangling chandelier like from long petioles. This plant only had 2 blossoms and I think it was because it didn’t get enough sun and grew in dry, sandy soil. I’ve seen woodchucks burrow into this ground and all they’ve brought up from under the railbed is pure sand.

Canada lily flowers are big, and can be yellow, orange or red, or a combination. They have purple spotted throats that aren’t always seen because the flowers almost always face downwards. If you’re very gentle though, you can bend a stem back enough to see into a blossom without breaking it. This plant is unusual because it prefers wet places. Most lilies, and in fact most plants that grow from bulbs, do not like soil that stays wet. They prefer sandy, well-drained soil. I almost always find Canada lilies growing along rivers and streams, and that’s why I was so surprised to see it here in this dry soil.

A tiny golden metallic bee landed on a leaf beside me.

The green berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are now speckled with red. Eventually they’ll become all red and will disappear quickly.

I was surprised to see tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) blooming out here. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

There was the trestle over ash brook, where the brook meets the Ashuelot River after it snakes its way through Keene. I usually like to go under it and see what flowers are blooming along the banks of the brook but we’ve had several inches of rain and the water was far too high.

Of course the river was high as well. Not too far from this spot there used to be a small island in the river just off shore, and an oak tree had fallen from the river bank to the island and made a bridge. I used to spend many happy hours on that island but high water like that which we see here first washed away the oak tree bridge and then over the years the island disappeared as well. Water is a powerful thing.

This is a magical place for me. It’s a place where I can see, better than anywhere else, how the world has changed. Or at least this small part of it. The land in this view for instance was a cornfield when I was a boy. Now it’s just silver and red maples and a lot of sensitive ferns; all plants that don’t mind wet feet. If you walk through here you find that the surface soil is pure silt, as fine as sifted flour, and that makes me think they probably stopped farming this piece of land because of flooding. Both the brook and the river still flood in this area and since as I write this on July 11 there are rain or showers predicted every day for the coming week, it’s liable to flood again.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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One of our prettiest wildflowers, showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense,) has just started blossoming. This plant grew under some powerlines where everything had been cut the previous year, so it doesn’t mind disturbed areas. It grew in full sun and was about 5 feet tall. From a distance it could fool you into thinking it was purple loosestrife but as always we get a pleasant surprise when we look a little closer. Showy tick trefoil is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The half inch flowers have two folded pink petals with the upper one opening first. The central white tube carries the stigmas and pistil, right there for all the insects to easily find. There is no nectar but bumblebees collect the pollen. Unfortunately Japanese beetles also love the plant.

In the same field as showy tick trefoils I found the first bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) I’ve seen bloom this year. There were many others that weren’t even showing color so I think it’s safe to say that this plant was a little early. This plant is also called spear thistle and is a native of Europe. It is considered an invasive weed but it’s far less invasive than creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) because it spreads itself by seeds and not root fragments like that plant does.

Many different bees and butterflies love bull thistle’s nectar and several species of small seed eating birds like finches love its seeds. Last year gold finches were all over these plants after they went to seed.

Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive; it seems to be quite rare here and I’m lucky if I see a dozen plants each year. It’s a colorful little thing; I love that shade of blue on the upper petals. The lower white petal is hard to see in this shot but it’s there, along with only two stamens and a long white central style.

Black swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) is blooming. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its tiny, pencil eraser size black flowers (actually very dark purple) become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. This plant also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe and in 1867 Gray’s Manual of Botany reported it as “a weed escaping from gardens in the Cambridge Massachusetts area.”

This is black swallowwort’s habit. Its strong wiry stems twine around themselves and anything else in their path. That’s why in Canada it is called dog strangler vine. It breaks off at the soil level if you try to pull it, and then it grows right back again, so it is almost impossible to get rid of. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land.

Native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have started blooming right on time while other plants like bee balm are late. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) is a native plant that can sometimes reach 5 feet, decorated with pretty yellow, daisy like flowers. Though I often find it growing along the river it is easy to grow and also does well in gardens. Plant breeders have created at least a few cultivars. It is also called early sunflower. Watch the leaf stems (petioles) if you find it in the wild. If they are an inch and a half or more long then you might have found another native called Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus.) That plant also has hairy stems and false sunflower does not.

This is the first chicory flower (Cichorium intybus) I’ve seen this season. The plant by itself might not be much to look at but the flowers are always very beautiful. This one was luminous; just look at the way it glows. All flowers have a light that shines out from them but every now and then one will outshine the rest, and on this day this was the one.

These big and beautiful lilies grew in a park. Red is a hard color for most cameras to see accurately but my cell phone came through this time.

I Found a huge clump of creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) in a garden at a local park and I thought, someone is going to be sorry. That’s because once you have creeping bellflower you’ll most likely have it forever, because no amount of pulling or digging will get rid of it. It is an invasive that will choke out weaker native plants. I sometimes find it on forest edges but see it gardens more than anywhere else. The flowers are very pretty and have the unusual habit of growing all along one side of the stem. This seems to make the stems heavier on one side so they lean toward where the flowers are.

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) also grows in a local park. They are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it.

I can only guess which insects come to drink from the cup plant’s tiny ponds. The plant produces resins that smell like turpentine and was used medicinally by Native Americans.

This is the first time Marshallia (Marshallia trinervia) has appeared on this blog because until this day I had never seen it. Google lens accurately identified it and when I looked it up I found that it is a native perennial plant in the daisy family called Barbara’s buttons, or broadleaf Barbara’s buttons. I don’t know who Barbara was but I thought the flowers were quite pretty and unusual. I’ve read that it grows on roadsides, bogs, or open pine woodlands but it is said to be rare, even in its native southeastern U.S. It can be found for sale at nurseries specializing in rare, unusual and / or exotic plants. I found this one in a  garden at a commercial business building, of all places.

Sea holly (Eryngium planum) is another plant that has never appeared here. Since it grew in the same garden as Barbara’s buttons I’d guess that the gardener is seeking out rare and unusual plants. This one is a native of Europe and from what I’ve read likes sandy, well-drained soils in full sun.

Silvery blue sea holly flowers are tiny but look bigger because of the many long, sharp bracts that surround them. They are supposed to be especially useful for dried flower arrangements. I think it would be a conversation starter in any garden, but in this country the conversation would most likely start with “What is that?”

While it may look like a honeysuckle at first, its white latex sap might make you think it is one of the  milkweeds. But those flowers aren’t milkweed flowers. In fact they’re more like dogbane flowers and that’s because this plant is indeed a dogbane called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

The pretty plum colored stems are the best clue that you’ve found Indian hemp.

Invasive shaggy soldiers (Galinsoga quadriradiata) are commonly found at the edges of vegetable gardens in this area. The plant is considered a weed, even in its native Mexico, but I think it’s worth a look. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices. The tiny flowers are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around tiny yellow center disc florets.

Native vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places and I find it near ponds and ditches, as this one was. In ancient times the plant was considered a sacred plant, known for its healing powers. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments including depression, kidney stones, headaches, coughs and fevers. It is still used medicinally today by homeopaths.

Pretty vervain flowers appear on spikes sometimes 5 inches long. They are packed tightly together and bloom from the bottom of the spike to the top.

Each flower is a little less than 1/4 inch across, and has 5 evenly spaced lobes around a short, narrow tube. I’ve read that inside the tube are 4 stamens and a short style, but I’ve never seen them because it looks like they’re hidden behind a hairy trap door. An insect must have to force its way inside to get the prize. This is the first time I’ve noticed this feature on these flowers.

My favorite milkweed is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) because of the color and because of the way the flowerheads remind me of small millefiori glass paperweights. They are beautiful flowers that I can easily lose myself in. This one grows on the shore of a pond and all I had with me for a camera was my phone so though it isn’t a great shot up close, at least you can see how beautiful the plants are.

IWe are beings who seek the infinity of beauty over the finitude of time. ~J.M. Campos

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Last Saturday I did a post about a rail trail that I had hiked in Winchester and in that post I mentioned that I was a bit anxious that the trail looked like it was no longer being maintained. The maintenance of many of these rail trails is handled by local snowmobile clubs. They volunteer their time and effort to keep these trails open for winter use but there is only so much they can do, and I’m afraid they might have had to let that one go. This post will show what happens to a trail when it is no longer maintained, and why the thought that some trails might no longer be maintained gets me a little anxious.

Two weeks ago we had a thunderstorm. It didn’t seem like anything special; we expect thunderstorms in June in this part of the world. It only lasted for maybe 20 minutes and as I say, it didn’t seem like anything special. Until I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s huge old oak tree on my lawn, that is. Then I knew that this wasn’t just a June thunderstorm. In fact thousands of trees had been blown down all over the state, and close to 100,000 people lost power because of it. This day, on this trail, I saw at least 10 trees that had blown across the trail, but they had all been cleaned up. Do we ever wonder who does all the cleaning up? I wonder. Some trees fell where I work, and it took all day for two of us to clean up a single pine tree like the one pictured above. It was a lot of work, and that was just one tree.

There will be more tree work on this trail; I saw 3 or 4 trees that had fallen and gotten hung up on trees on the other side of the trail. These are called “widow makers” and I hope nobody is under them when they come down.

I’m still not seeing many fungi because of the dryness, but a little rain the day before was apparently enough to coax this yellow mushroom into fruiting. It had a little slug damage on the cap but it was still worthy of a photo or two.

A colony of heal all plants (Prunella lanceolata) grew in a sunny spot, still moist from the previous day’s showers. I love to see these small but beautiful orchid like flowers.

Other flowers I like to see are maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and they found sunny spots to grow in too. At first I thought they were their cousins the Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) but the jagged circle in the center of the flower told the story. Deptford pinks don’t have this feature.  They should be along any time now.

There are lots of box culverts carrying streams under this rail trail but much of the rail bed was built on fill that was packed between two hills, and in some cases it’s a 50 foot climb down to see the culverts. This example was the only one that was just a few feet below the rail bed. That granite lintel stone over the opening is about two feet thick; strong enough to have locomotives roll over it for well over a century.

There are plenty of other reminders of the railroad out here as well, like this old signal box. I once had an asbestos abatement contractor tell me that these were often lined with asbestos, so it’s best to just let them be.

Old stone walls still mark the boundary lines between private and railroad property.

I’ve never seen a horse on this trail but you can tell that they’ve been here.

I was surprised to find many pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) up and ready to bloom. I don’t usually find these until well after their cousins the Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) bloom, but I haven’t seen a single Indian pipe yet this year. The chief differences between the two plants are color and flower count. Indian pipes are stark white and have a single flower, while pinesap plants are honey colored or reddish with multiple flowers. Neither plant photosynthesizes. Instead they receive nutrients from fungi that are associated with the roots of oaks and pines.

I’m guessing this log must act like a sponge and hold water, because it had coral fungus all over it. I think the soil is simply too dry to support much fungi at the moment.

I think these were crown tipped coral fungi (Clavicorona pyxidata) but since I don’t have a microscope to make identification a certainty, please don’t hold me to that.

This is a great trail for groups of people to walk because it is so wide. I think 4 people could walk side by side over most of it. It is level over much of its length and mostly arrow straight as well. When it does curve the curves are so gentle you don’t even realize it.

And that is why this should tell you something; the railroad would have never built anything like this. It’s hard to tell but it goes steeply uphill and the curves are far too sharp for a train to follow. That’s because this is a detour around the actual railbed, which lies abandoned over there on the right.

If you were to ignore the detour and keep walking straight on, this is what you’d find; the original rail bed. After I climb over and under a few downed trees, we’ll have a look.

The original rail bed was another deep cut, with a man-made canyon hacked out of the stone hillside. I’ve explored it before and found that the far end is blocked by many tons of gravel, which was poured into the canyon when a road was built across it. It’s a confusing conundrum, because I’m sure both the road and railbed are very old. If the road was there when the railbed was built there should be a tunnel under the road. If the road was built later over a running railroad there would have been a bridge or trestle over the rails. In any event there is just a huge mound of gravel at the end, and that has caused the drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to fail, so I got very wet feet in here. I should have worn my winter hikers.

These photos show what our rail trails would look like if the maintenance on them were to suddenly stop. When I say that we owe our snowmobile clubs and all of the other volunteers who keep these trails open a huge debt of gratitude, I’m not joking. I think it took me over two hours to pick my way through the entire length the first time I explored it, and this section isn’t even a mile long.

The woods have a luminous quality out here but even so this part isn’t a very pleasant walk. I spent far more time climbing over trees and avoiding walking in standing water than I did actually walking so I decided not to follow the canyon to the end. Standing in ankle deep mud taking photos isn’t much fun, so my only thought was to get out of here.

I grew up in a house that was just a few yards from a Boston and Maine Railroad track that freight trains ran over twice a day, so when I saw them tear up all the rails and take them away it was traumatic enough to keep me off rail trails for a very long time. Seeing a dirt trail where the trains once ran was a hard thing but finally after 30 years or so I convinced myself that it was time to get over it and I’ve been walking these rail trail ever since. In that time I’ve discovered what a great gift they are. For a nature lover who wants to get far into the woods without having to cut a trail, there is simply nothing that can compare. I hope we will all do our best to keep them open, even if it is simply telling a town or state representative how much we enjoy them. To stand aside and watch nature reclaim something so unique and valuable would be a real tragedy, in my opinion.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Here are a few more examples of what is blooming in southern New Hampshire at this time of year.

1. Upright Bedstraw aka Galium album

Upright bedstraw (Galium album) is also called upright hedge bedstraw, and that name is perfect because it describes where this plant is found growing. Where the meadow meets the woods there can be found millions of tiny white, honey scented flowers lighting up the shade. Bedstraws hail from Europe and have been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient times entire plants were gathered and used as mattress stuffing and that’s where the plant gets its common name. The dried leaves are said to smell like vanilla in some species of Gallium and honey in others.

2. Tickseed Coreopsis

Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gets its common name from the way that its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. The yellow flowers are about an inch and a half across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems.  This is a native plant with a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south.

3. Swamp Candles

Our native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris,) not surprisingly, like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. They bloom at about the same time as whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) and that is because both plants are closely related. These plants stand about 2-3 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers.

4. Swamp Candle

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 stamens are streaked with yellow and red.

5. Wild Radish

Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has pale yellow flowers similar in color to those of the sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) but they can also be white or pink. This plant is considered a noxious weed because it gets into forage and grain crops. I always find it growing at the edges of corn fields at this time of year, not because it likes growing with corn but because it likes to grow in disturbed soil. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish. Everyone seems to agree that this is a non-native plant but nobody seems to know exactly where it came from or how it got here.

 6. Bouncing Bet

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

 7. Rabbit's Foot Clover

The feathery pink bits on rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) are sepals that help hide the tiny white petals on this plant. The sepals are much larger than the petals and make up the larger part of the flower head. This plant is introduced from Europe and grows on river banks and in sandy vacant lots. Its common name comes from the flower’s supposed resemblance to a rabbit’s foot.

 8. Monkey Flower aka Mimulus ringens

I didn’t think I’d see any native Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) this year because it usually starts blooming much earlier than it did. This plant likes sandy soil and sunny, wet places so I don’t see it that often. It is also called square stemmed monkey flower, for obvious reasons. The small but beautiful flowers are supposed to resemble the face of a smiling monkey, but I don’t see it. Does anybody else see a monkey here?

9. Canada Thistle

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is a small plant that is hated for its extensive root system that makes it almost impossible to get rid of in pastures. Not only does it have a taproot but also a large fibrous root system that can spread horizontally for several feet.  Canada thistle isn’t anywhere near as large or prickly as other thistles, but it does have small prickles on its leaf margins. I didn’t see the crab spider on the underside of the blossom until I looked at the photo.

10. Queen Anne's Lace

Everyone seems to be taking photos of Queen Anne’s lace from the backside this year, so since it is such a well-known plant that doesn’t need much in the way of explanation I thought I’d try it too. This plant is also called wild carrot and if you dig up its root and crush it, you’ll find that it smells exactly like a carrot. It should never be eaten unless you are absolutely certain of the plant’s identity however, because it closely resembles some of the most toxic plants known.

11. Hedge Bindweed aka Calystegia sepium

It was another day with bright, harsh sunlight, so I didn’t have much hope for flower photography, but this backlit hedge bindweed blossom (Calystegia sepium) stopped me in my tracks. This has been one of my favorite flowers for a long time-I can remember admiring it even as a small boy-but back then I called it a morning glory. Though it is in the morning glory family hedge bindweed is a perennial, while true morning glories (Ipomoea) are annuals.

12. Fragrant White Water Lily

I was determined to get close enough to a fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata) to get a decent shot and I did, but I also got my feet soaking wet. I wish I could have gotten close enough to smell it, but I would have needed a boat for that. Each blossom of this plant opens for just three days to let insects visit and after that the stalk coils like a spring, dragging the flower under water where it sets its seed. After several weeks the seeds are released into the water so currents can carry them to suitable locations to germinate.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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