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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Plants’

The weather people promised a fine summer day recently, with temperatures in the 70s F. and low humidity, so I knew it was a day to make a climb. I chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey because as I looked through this year’s blog posts I was surprised to find that I hadn’t climbed it at all this year. To get to the trailhead you cross this meadow.

The last time I was here there were two planks across this wet area. Now there were four and with all the rain we’ve had this year, I wasn’t surprised. I gave a silent word of thanks to the kind person who put them here.

Though there were other wet places along the trail most of it was dry and easy going, and it was a beautiful morning to be in the woods.

I saw one of my favorite clubmosses, fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180-degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered “fern allies.” Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

I was surprised to find a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera tesselata) here, growing right at the edge of the trail. Though it is a woodland orchid it is not as common as its cousin the downy rattlesnake plantain, which I see regularly. It had flowered earlier but they had gone by. This plant was very small; easily small enough to fit in a teacup with room to spare, so you can probably imagine how small its flowers are. They look like tiny white teapots and are pollinated by bumblebees, halictid bees and syrphid flies.

The sun shining on these black birch leaves stopped me for a bit. There are lots of black birch trees here, I’m happy to say. They were once harvested nearly into oblivion so they could be pulped to make oil of wintergreen. If you ever wonder what kind of tree you’re seeing, cherry or birch, just scratch off a bit of bark and sniff. If you smell wintergreen, you have a black birch (Betula lenta.) It is also called sweet birch or cherry birch. The trees can be tapped like sugar maples in spring and the fermented sap made into birch beer.

Yellow finger coral fungi are round like spaghetti but these were flat so I think they were a club coral, possibly Clavulinopsis helvola. They grow in tight clusters, often fused at the base. They are said to taste very bitter, which might explain why animals never seem to touch them. They were beautiful, backlit by the sun as they were.

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. They grew all the way up the hill, scattered throughout the woods, looking like little flames licking up out of the soil. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) also grew in good numbers, and many had ripe fruit like this one. Those plants that produce fruit usually have a bright crimson patch on the leaves just under the berries. I’ve often wondered if it was there to attract birds or animals to the fruit. Little is known about what animals eat the berries but it is said that the Native American Iroquois tribe used the crushed dried berries and leaves to treat convulsions in infants. Native Americans also ate the roots of the plant, which taste and smell like a cucumber. I accidentally scared a turkey away from the plants once and I wondered if it was that bird eating the berries. They do disappear.

What a beautiful day it was. My lungs were working well, probably due to the cooler weather, so I didn’t have any trouble climbing. This climb is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep. I think a young person could probably be up and down in a half hour, but then they’d miss so much.

I saw probably fifty or more honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) growing on a fallen tree and I was glad they weren’t on a living, standing tree. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms, which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

A ray of sunlight caught a pretty little purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides,) fruiting far later than usual. It might seem odd to see a mushroom in sunlight but most everything in the forest gets at least some sun, if just for a few moments each day.

Ridged tooth fungi (Hydnellum scrobiculatum) grew here and there nearer the summit. This one is tough; they feel hard and non-yielding to the touch. The common name comes from the ridges on the cap margins. It’s a very unusual woodland mushroom that likes to grow near pines. Because it’s so tough nothing touches it, so they last for quite a while.

The “tooth” part of the name becomes apparent when you turn a ridged tooth fungus over. Instead of gills it has spines packed closely together. They are said to start out kind of purplish-brown but these were more of a tan so I’d guess that the color fades as they age. That’s common among fungi.

Something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time is the black earth tongue fungus so today was a lucky, fungus filled day. This fungus is very rare in my experience though I’ve read that it is widely distributed. This example might have been an inch tall at best and was club shaped. It grew on a well-rotted tree stump and for that reason I think it must be the common earth tongue (Geoglossum cookeanum.) At first I thought it was the viscid black earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum,) but that species only grows in soil. I’ve read that the only way to be sure is by microscopic examination of its spores. It is one of the sac fungi and feels very tough and leathery.

Another mushroom I’ve never seen is a pretty one called the painted suillus (Suillus spraguei.) It is also called the painted slippery cap and red and yellow suillus. The caps are dark red when young and develop yellowish cracks as they age. They also have mats of reddish hairs on the cap, according to what I’ve read. They are said to have a mycorrhizal relationship with pine trees, particularly the eastern white pine, so it makes perfect sense that it would grow here.

The sunlight brought out the velvety sheen in this tiger eye fungus (Coltricia cinnamomea.) It was beautiful, with its concentric rings of colors. They are also called fairy stools or sometimes cinnamon fairy stools because of the bands of cinnamon orangey brown coloring on their caps. Previously their scientific name was Coltricia perennis but names are changing all the time these days. The Coltricia part of the scientific name means seat or couch and perennis means perennial.

And there was the 40-ton glacial erratic called Tippin’ Rock, which will rock back and forth like a baby cradle when pushed in the right spot. I thought the story was just a fairy tale until I saw it move, and then I thought it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. When you start thinking of all the things that had to happen for this stone to be able to do that, it kind of blows your mind.

When I saw the puffy white clouds in the sky I knew this would be a good day for views, and I wasn’t disappointed. They add a lot of interest to what is otherwise a flat blue sky, and I’ve always loved to sit and watch their shadows moving across the hills below. Sometimes they creep and other times they speed by.

Sitting with your back against a stone, watching the cloud shadows gliding silently across the landscape, hearing the soft whisper of the wind in the trees, it’s easy to believe that you have it all. All is perfection, and there isn’t a thing you would change, even if you could.

I keep telling myself that I’ll climb to the top of the ledges so I can say that I was at the very top of 912-foot Hewe’s Hill but by the time I get there doing so has lost its importance. I also realize that I can’t be absolutely sure that this point is the highest, but I’ve never seen anything higher from where I stood. It’s impressive.

Lichens and mosses taught me to watch for vertical streams. Where water runs down the bark of trees after a rain for example, is where you’ll often find the most mosses and lichens growing. They grow on either side of the channel, just as if they grew on the banks of a stream. And here it was again, on a much larger scale. There is a water source somewhere above that drips water continuously down the face of the ledge and, since lichens need to be moist to be at their best, that’s where they grow. These are mostly rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) and toadskin (Lasallia papulosa) lichens, each umbilicate lichens.

There is little in nature that seems happier than a wet lichen, unless it is two squirrels playing tag. This toadskin lichen was in its glory; pea green, as rubbery as your ear lobe, and producing spores like there was no tomorrow.

These lichens, away from the dripping water source, didn’t look so happy. They were ashen and stiff, just hanging on waiting for rain. And umbilicate lichens really do hang on. They attach themselves to the stone at a single point and hang like a rag from a peg. Nothing illustrates that better than that rock tripe lichen in the center. It actually looks like a rag hanging from a peg. You can see the attachment point in these lichens as bright white spots in this photo. That single attachment point reminded whoever sorted these lichens into their little pigeonholes of their bellybutton, hence the name umbilicate.

And on the way back down there was Mister Smiley Face. He was here for years and then he disappeared so I thought someone had thrown him into the woods but no, he had just been moved up the hill a little further. He’s covered with moss now but still smiling. I found myself smiling too, happy to see him after so long but at the same time wondering when this chunk of log became a “him” and gained a name. I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter. It always makes me smile.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

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We are in full on, everywhere you look aster time here in this corner of New Hampshire, and that includes my favorite deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) You have to search for this color because they aren’t anywhere near as common as the lighter lavender asters. In this particular spot these plants have lots of competition so they can get quite tall. I saw plants on this day that were taller than I was.

The flowers were beautiful and so was the place they grew in. Now part of the local university system, this path winds through woods I played in as a boy. Now it’s part of a nature preserve and that makes me very happy, because its beauty should be preserved. The Ashuelot River is just over on the other side of that fence on the left and on this day, it was scary high. I saw evidence in places where it had topped its banks and flooded the forest so it’s probably best not to come here after heavy rains. But it’s such a beautiful spot I’ve decided that I should visit more often. I’m very anxious to come here when the leaves have colored up. These trees are almost all red and silver maples.

There were mixtures of asters and goldenrods in sunnier spots. I also found lots of Japanese knotweed out here, unfortunately.

There were fields of goldenrod too. Interestingly (unless you’re a photographer) not one of the three cameras I carried could cope with this scene. I took photos with all three and they were all baffled. So though it isn’t a good photo, it does give you an idea of what I saw here. It was just beautiful.

I like the contrast between goldenrod and those dark New England asters.

Most of the woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) I saw had been flattened by the flooding but this one still stood tall. This is another native that can get quite tall. I sometimes see it growing up out of the middle of dogwoods and other shrubs.

There were two monarch butterflies on this stand of asters but of course they flew off as soon as I got close enough for a shot. But then this one couldn’t resist and came back for another taste.

I saw pure white New England asters too. They are not something I often see. In fact I think I’ve only seen them two or three times in the 10+ years I’ve been doing this blog.

This New England aster was in a sunny spot in the forest. This color is by far the most common but that fact does nothing to diminish its beauty.

I was out here a day or two earlier and saw even more monarchs. Unfortunately they were on some very invasive purple loosestrife.

But they were beautiful and yes, so was the purple loosestrife.

One more shot of this beautiful place that I have loved all of my life. I hope you liked seeing it too. What fun I had here when I was just a pup, but of course there were no mowed paths here then. Just the forest, but that was always enough.

I left one place I spent a lot of time in as a boy and went to another one and there, along the Ashuelot River near downtown Keene, I found more closed gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming than I have ever seen before. Yes, these plants grow along this trail but these were not the ones I came to see. These were new to this place; previously unseen, and they made me wonder how they got here and how I could have missed them last year. They are not flowers you pass by with a nod and a shrug, because they’re rarely seen in this area, so I would have fallen onto my knees to admire them last year just as I did on this day.

But a minute or two after I fell onto my knees none of what I had just thought mattered, because I was lost in their unique beauty. It is a special kind of unusual beauty that makes me wonder if I were a bee, how would I get in there? And the leaves; why had they changed so soon? Though I know that fall starts on the forest floor I wondered if I had been missing it just as I had missed the gentians. I’m going to have to pay closer attention.

It’s turtlehead time. I haven’t seen any of our native white flowered plants this year so I’m guessing they aren’t a huge fan of lots of rain. These pink ones don’t seem to mind however; it was raining when I took this photo and they were in good health.

I’ve never seen turtles when I looked at turtlehead blossoms but after looking at this shot for a while, if I called that little whiteish “tongue” the head and the rest of the flower the shell, I finally saw a turtle. Whether or not that’s what others see, I can’t say.

I always like to look inside a turtlehead blossom because each time I do I see something I haven’t seen, like the stripe that guides insects straight into the blossom. And when an insect lands on the landing pad “tongue” and follows that stripe the hairy anthers on either side will brush their pollen all over it, so it can then fly off and pollinate another flower. Miracles; all around us every day. Nature will reveal them to you, if you pay attention and look closely.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snake root’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant contains a toxic compound called trematol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drink the milk or eat the meat before too long, they start to show signs of what was once called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most who drank the tainted milk would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from what is believed to have been milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans, but today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is now virtually unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives. If you use boneset medicinally you should get to know this plant well so you don’t confuse the two.

I went to the one place I knew of to find pretty little sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) flowers and could find not a single plant, but luckily later on I found several plants growing in the sand of a road shoulder. This curious little plant gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. It is an annual, which grows new from seed each year. They grow to only about knee high and though there are usually many flowers per stem they’re so small they can be hard to see.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

I’ve not been able to find any red cardinal flowers this year. All of those I’ve found in the past grew on the very edge of the water, so with all the flooding they’ve been either flattened or washed away. But, for the first time I did find blue lobelia, also called blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica) in a garden bed at a local park, of all places. I talked to some ladies who were tidying up the beds and they told me the plants had been there for many years. Too long for anyone to know how they came to be there, but I think they were most likely planted years ago. This is a plant I’ve been hoping to find for a very long time so I was happy to see it.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our native chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) for this season. That’s too bad, because its flowers are a shade of blue not often found outside of a garden.

I noticed that plant breeders have been working on globe amaranth plants while I wasn’t watching. These I found in a local garden were like beautiful little starbursts.

I thought I’d save the biggest surprise for last; a Forsythia blossom in September. Then I saw four more the next day. Though they are a spring bloomer over the years I’ve found a blossom or two even during  a warm January one year. It’s always a surprise.

The wonder of the beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. ~ John O’Donohue

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I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though, because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is smaller than cultivated grapes and is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly, or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. They prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000-foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anaïs Nin

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Last Saturday I realized that I hadn’t climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey this year so I decided it was time, but not that day; it was near 90 degrees with air so thick you could cut it with a knife. By Sunday morning it had cooled off considerably with very low humidity, but as this photo shows there was plenty of mist.

I was hoping I’d get to see the mist from above but the sun had burned it off by the time I got to the river of reindeer lichen. This is one of my favorite places to stop for a bit on this mountain, though you really haven’t even started the climb at this point.

There are lots of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) here. Huge drifts of them line both sides of the trail at its start. These lichens are quite fragile, especially when dry, and should never be walked on. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades to reappear. I’ve always thought that the large colonies found here must be hundreds of years old.

The trail starts with granite bedrock.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) reminded me of my grandmother. When I was young she wanted me to be able to see and smell this plant’s flowers, but we never did find any because almost all of it had been picked. Now, 60 years later. It’s everywhere I go. She’d be very happy about that.

Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are one of the earliest to turn in the fall but I’ve never seen one half turn like this one had.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) was wearing its fall spots. This is one of the earliest plants to whisper fall in any of the forests I visit, and it is often spotted with yellow at this time of year.

My phone camera usually takes better trail photos than my regular camera, but on this morning I wasn’t really happy with the results. To be fair though, it was a bright sunlight, high contrast situation and every camera I’ve owned has had trouble with that.

I found these small mushrooms growing out of a living tree, which is never good for the tree. I haven’t been able to identify them. I see green but my color finding software sees pink, so they must be pink. They were kind of cute, I thought. All the sawdust that had fallen on and around them tells me that this tree is probably full of carpenter ants. Fungi and carpenter ants in and on a living tree is never a good thing for the tree.

I saw lots of purple corts (Cortinarius iodeoides) along the trail but the purple mushroom I hoped to find, the beautiful violet coral fungus, was nowhere to be seen. I’ve seen it here before at just about this time of year.

Another “cort” mushroom is the corrogated cap cort (Cortinarius corrugatus.) It is also called the wrinkled cort for obvious reasons. When fresh it is orangey brown but this one had gone beyond fresh. It’s an inedible but interesting mushroom that people like to find.

I can’t pass by a group of butter wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe ceracea) without getting some photos of them. They’re one of the most photogenic mushrooms in the forest, in my opinion. Very cute and shy little things; I never would have see them hiding behind this log if I hadn’t left the trail to look at something else. As is often the case if you let nature lead, one beautiful thing will lead you to another.

The trail here is very rough in places and is a constant uphill grade with no level places, so I think of it as the most challenging climb of any I do. I once saw a high school track and field member run up and down it before I had reached the halfway point but it usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes or so. It would anyway even with healthy lungs, because I make a lot of stops to see things of interest. With me “things of interest” means just about everything I see.

Piling stones on top of a tree that has been cut about 7 or 8 feet above the ground doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but maybe that’s just me. I hope they don’t fall on anyone.

Once I saw these polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum) near the summit I realized that I had never seen them on this moutain before. They’re called “rock polypody” because they like to grow on top of boulders and there really aren’t any stones big enough to be called boulders along this trail. These seemed to be growing on the ground, which is unusual for this fern. Or maybe there was a buried stone I couldn’t see.

I always look on the polypody’s leaf undersides at this time of year to see the tiny spore cases (sorus) which shine like beacons. Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by another common name: rock cap fern.

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish-brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sorus is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sori (plural of sorus) are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers.

NOTE: A helpful reader pointed out that I had my wires crossed and had the meanings of the words sori and sorus backwards. I do know the difference but it’s easy to become confused these days. I hope I got it correct this time and hope my mistake didn’t cause you any confusion.

The end of the trail, the last few yards to the summit, shows more solid granite bedrock and when you reach this point you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge, dome shaped granite monolith with a thin skin of soil on it. It makes you feel small, and feeling small is a good thing now and then.

It was a fine morning for views from the summit but I found that a lot of brush has grown up, so you don’t see a 180-degree panorama any longer.

I was surprised to find little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) up here. It caught the light and glowed beautifully pink in the bright sunshine. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is also grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish-purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

I was surprised to find St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) growing on the summit. I also saw lots of goldenrod, sumac, honeysuckle, and even forked blue curls. It’s amazing how all those seeds find their way up here. I suppose if you knew which birds ate which seeds you could get a good idea of what birds regularly visit this mountain.

This view shows what I mean about the brush blocking some of the view. I’m sure someone must cut it but I don’t know how often.

Of course I had to visit with the toadskin lichens while I was up here. They surprised me by being quite dry, even though we’d had rain just the morning before. These lichens feel just like potato chips when they’re dry and they crack just as easily so I try not to disturb them. I learned on this climb that they dry out quite quickly and I’d guess that they must be dry for most of their lives.

The black dots you saw on the lichens in that previous shot are this lichen’s apothecia, where its spores are produced. In toadskin lichens they are tiny blackish discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. I’ve been imagining that I’m having problems with the camera I use for macros, but the toadskin lichens showed me that there was really nothing to worry about. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one these tiny discs could easily hide behind one.

The view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey was as good as any I’ve seen from up here on this day, and I as I sat for a while enjoying it I thought it was a good bonus for all my huffing and puffing. And while I sat there catching my breath and admiring the view, I thought about what an easy thing it is to appreciate the simple things; those everyday things that cost nothing but touch you somehow. I’ve learned from experience that appreciation leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to joy. I do hope your days are joy filled.

The climb speaks to our character, but the view, I think, to our souls. ~Lori Lansens

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Narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana linearis) grow alongside an old dirt road up in Stoddard, so it takes a bit of effort to see them. It’s always worth it though; gentians of any kind are extremely rare in these parts and I’m always as excited to see them as I would be to see a field full of orchids. They’re such a beautiful shade of blue.

The gentians were coming up through ferns and I’m hoping the ferns aren’t choking them out. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them on this blog very often, because our soil is generally acidic. The flowers never really open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so.

I didn’t see a bumblebee on the gentians but I did see one on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) I found growing in a local garden. This is another flower that I have never seen here before this and I wonder why more people don’t grow it. It’s a pretty flower but the plants were a bit wilted on the day I saw them, so maybe they need a lot of water? I don’t know them well, so I can’t say. They certainly do attract insects.

I realized that I hadn’t been keeping up with the roses this year so here is a pink one I saw in a local garden.

This one reminded me of the cabbage roses I grew up with. My mother planted them before she died and the fragrance was unbelievable. Sitting out on the porch on a warm summer evening smelling the hedge full of hundreds of fragrant roses is a pleasant memory I’ve carried with me my entire life.

Google lens tells me this is a northern sundrop (Oenothera tetragona.) I’m okay with the sundrop part but northern sundrops have red buds and the buds on this plant were green. This plant is in the evening primrose family and there is a northern evening primrose (Oenothera parviflora) but it has flowers that do not open during the day and this flower was fully open at about 11:00 am. There is a narrow leaved evening primrose (Oenothera fruticosa) with 4-petaled bright yellow flowers which are 2-3 inches across, so that fits. It blooms in April through August in sandy soil along roadsides so that fits as well. Even though I can tick off a few positives there is a big negative, and that is that Oenothera fruticosa is rare in New England. Though it is listed as present in New Hampshire it is also listed as unranked, so in the end all I can tell you is that I found a sundrop plant beside an old dirt road and I can’t tell you its name. It’s very pretty though and there are sundrop cultivars for gardens.

Before the lily beetles came and finished them off, I used to grow Asiatic lilies. I planted them under each window so their wonderful fragrance would fill the house and it did until it didn’t. I grew stargazer lilies which were much pinker than these I found in a local garden. These were a bit over done as far as color I thought, but the fragrance was still heavenly. If you want wonderful fragrance in the garden Asiatic lilies will get you there.

I was looking for sunflowers but instead found these rudbeckia plants in the same garden as the Asiatic lilies. I do enjoy seeing what plant breeders are doing, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them. They’re quite different from any I’ve ever seen.

NOTE: A reader believes this might be a Gaillardia rather than a rudbeckia. Since I don’t know Gaillardia I’ll ask all of you what you think. I based my identification on the leaves, which couldn’t be any more rudbeckia like. But then maybe Gaillardia leaves look like that too. What do you think?

These nodding onions (Allium cernuum) I found in the same garden as the rudbeckia and Asiatic lilies were quite beautiful, I thought. They were dainty little things and I loved their colors. These plants are native to the U.S., with a range from New York to Michigan down to Georgia and the mountains of Arizona.

White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, one-inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers and they always look a bit wonky, like like a chubby fingered toddler had glued the petals on. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings, which is how it grows naturally. Where I work, they’ve come up under lilacs and they’re very pretty there, so I just let them be.

In a normal year I would see big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) like those in the above photo blooming before the white wood asters we just saw but this year things are reversed and big leaf asters came in second. The flowers of big leaf aster are about the size of a nickel and are usually white but you can find an occasional plant with purple flowers as I did in this instance.

Big leaf asters get their common name not surprisingly, from their big, hand size leaves. Big leaves gather more light and since this plant grows in forests under trees that is how it has evolved. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. I should also say that these leaves are not at all shiny. The only reason they look shiny in this photo is because it was a dewy morning and they were wet. Normally they would have a kind of dull, matte finish.

Bees were loving the purple coneflowers, which are now at their peak of bloom. They’re another native plant, native to the prairies of the mid west.

It’s just about time to say goodbye to our native purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus.)  Or at least, the flowers. The fruit comes next of course, and it will look like an oversize raspberry. These 2-inch diameter flowers look like roses at a glance but a closer look at the leaves and stems tells the story.

I wanted you to see the variations in color you can find on a single flowering raspberry plant. The flowers can look quite different even when they grow side by side. I’ve always thought the age of the blossom must have something to do with it but of course I can’t prove it.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) has just come into bloom. At a glance you might call it white Joe Pye weed and in fact the two plants are closely related, but the thread like flower styles are really the only shared feature. The leaves look quite different than those found on Joe Pye weed. I find boneset on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

Wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare) is a first for this blog. Though I must have walked by it for years I just noticed it where I work one morning. The silvery looking things that the flowers are growing out of are the spiky flowerheads, covered in dew. The flowers are very small and it took several tries to get a useable photo of them. The plants sprawl a bit but are quite short. I’d have to call them maybe shin high.

I’m not thrilled with this shot of the wild basil flower but the plants have been cut so it’s all I have. The plant is in the mint family and the leaves are edible. They are said to have a minty, peppery taste. I’ve also read that a sweet and aromatic herb tea can be made from the fresh leaves. It is said that the plant probably came from Europe because it is very common there, but nobody seems to know for sure. Since I’ve seen it exactly once in 60+ years I doubt it could be called invasive, even if it did originate in Europe.

As the story goes, once upon a time a lady (with a dirty thumb?) made an impression on this plant and it has been called lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) ever since. Though it doesn’t show very well in this photo, the base of each leaf forms a clasping sheath where it joins the central stem. Clasping leaves and the spots on each leaf are helpful identifiers. This plant is originally from Europe.

The small whitish-pink flowers are hard to find fully open and often aren’t seen when they are open. This is a small, unobtrusive plant that might reach 2 feet tall on a good day.

And there is the lady’s thumb print. Lady’s thumb is very similar to other knotweeds and smartweeds, but is the only one with the brownish black “thumb print.” I found the plant pictured growing in the rocky, sandy soil by a pond. Smartweeds get their name from the way they’ll make your tongue smart if you bite into them. The name knotweed comes from the sheath that encircles the nodes on the stems.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Persicaria extremiorientalis, far-eastern smartweed. Thank you Sara!

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe that all flowers have a divine inner light. In some flowers it’s easy to see and in others it’s not so easy, but one of the flowers that always shows it best is the purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea.) I always have to stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments. If a flower’s inner light can shine so brightly just imagine what yours might do.

Your inner light is what makes you beautiful. ~Mary Davis

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Whether you think Joe Pye was the name of a healer who used the plant to heal or jopi, the Native American name of the plant that did the healing, doesn’t matter. All that matters is its beauty. The plant is having a fairly good year because it likes a lot of rain, and some tower over my head. This example was just starting to flower, and you can tell that by the tiny thread like flower styles that give the flower head its fuzzy look. The flowers smell a bit like vanilla to me, and they attract many insects including monarch butterflies, so this plant (Eupatorium) is a great choice for a wildlife garden.

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water, as this one was, but I’ve also found them in very dry places. This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most; usually about knee high. The flowers are quite fragrant and many insects love them.

Marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) flowers are very pink for a St. John’s wort. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant often has dark colored maroonish leaves like those seen here. It isn’t rare but it isn’t easy to find either.

The pin striped flowers are unusual and beautiful but you have to be patient to see them because they will only open when the plant is in full afternoon sun.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) is a pretty little shin high plant that usually blooms in August. What look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant, including bumblebees. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Several years ago, I put a field milkwart raceme on a penny so you could see how small these flowers really are. Small or not they’re very pretty and worth seeing. Milkworts get their name from the ancient Greeks, who thought they increased milk production in nursing mothers. The polygala part of the scientific name comes from the Greek polugalon or “much milk.”

Native trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) flowers are showy, waxy, trumpet shaped, and big; up to 3 1/2 inches long. They can be orange, reddish orange, or sometimes pink and they attract Ruby throated Hummingbirds and many insects. If you plant this vine near your house, you’d better give it something very sturdy to climb on. I once saw it pull a trellis right off a porch. Trumpet creeper can grow 35 feet tall when it has something to climb on. It climbs using aerial roots which, like some other vines like English Ivy, can damage wood, stone, or brick. Other names are cow vine, foxglove vine, hellvine, and devil’s shoestring, so you either love it or hate it. This one grows on an old rusty chain link fence so I just admire it. If I was going to plant one, I’d let it grow up a pine tree. It wouldn’t pull that down.

I like the flower buds on a trumpet creeper as much as the flowers. They look like red satin balloons.

I found a small plant, about as big as a baseball, in a lawn. It was covered in a large number of tiny flowers which were obviously in the forget me not family but much smaller. I think it might be field forget me not (Myosotis arvensis,) which I’ve never seen before now.

The flowers are about 1/8 inch across, much smaller than the forget me nots I’m used to finding. They are saucer shaped, which is an identifying feature as is the hairy, 5 lobed calyx at the base of the flower. If you know that I’ve misidentified it I’d love to hear from you.

Low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis) is blooming in sandy waste places in quite large numbers this year. The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those of red sand spurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped. Most of the plants I’ve seen would fit in a tea cup with room to spare, but there are usually lots of plants growing together. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. I had never seen it before a couple of summers ago but now I see it quite regularly. I’m guessing it re-seeds itself prolifically. This is another plant that was identified by readers of this blog, so once again I say thank you for the help.

I saw some of the lobelia plants that are called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) but there was a black spot in the center of some of the flowers which didn’t look right, and that was because this little guy and his cousins were buried up to their hind legs in the flower tubes. As I watched this one crawled out and that’s how I found out what was happening. The flower seen here was about a quarter inch long so this was a tiny critter. It looks like a beetle of some sort but I haven’t been able to identify it.

Note: A helpful reader has identified this creature as a weevil, and I think it might be the stem miner weevil (Mecinus pyraster.) Thanks Ginny!

Invasive purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) has come into bloom. Three species of non native plant feeding beetles have been said to show promise in biological control of purple loosestrife and biological control has begun in the southern part of the state. I haven’t seen any great loss of purple loosestrife yet but it is said that it will take 5 years before we’ll see any real impact.

My first question is, what will the introduced insects eat when there are no more purple loosestrife plants? My second question is, when will we ever learn?

It’s time to say goodbye to Canada lilies, which are our biggest, showiest wildflower. Stumbling into a clearing in the woods where dozens of these plants, some 7 feet tall, are blooming is just unforgettable.

The blossoms themselves are pretty unforgettable too. Everything about them is big.

Years ago, when I first saw blue hydrangeas I thought they were the greatest thing, but since then I’ve grown into a more take it or leave it frame of mind. I found this one growing beside an abandoned building in Keene and I kind of liked the white in the flowers, rather than solid blue. I don’t know if the white is just a fluke or if it means the flowers are fading but it was a nice touch, in my opinion.

It’s rare to see anything but red bee balm here so I was surprised and happy to find this one in a local park. It had a bit of powdery mildew on its leaves but it looked good otherwise.

I was also surprised to find a huge anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) plant in full bloom at the local college. It’s a pretty plant that I’ve never seen before, but it was easy to see that it needs a lot of room. I’ve read that it’s a native plant in the mint family that is said to attract many insects and butterflies but, though there were plenty of both flying around that day I didn’t see a single one land on this plant. I wondered if they, like me, just weren’t used to seeing it. When I find plants I don’t know like this one I sometimes think of what I could have done with them back when I was gardening for a living.

Rose of Sharon shrubs (Hibiscus syriacus) have come into bloom. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this plant each year at this time. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year-round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus. This is about the only time of year I think of hibiscus because I used to have to trim what seemed like miles of hybiscus hedges when I worked as a gardener in Florida, so I don’t really miss them.

And here was a double flowered one. I’m not usually partial to double flowers but this one wasn’t too bad.

And here is this week’s beautiful daylily. My color finding software tells me its colors are thistle, orchid and plum. It has a divine light shining out of its throat and anthers of flame. If you could take a tray of flower parts and build your own, I’m not sure you would end up with a flower more beautiful than this. It’s a flower I can easily lose myself in.

In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends. ~ Kakuzō Okakura

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Last Saturday I walked along the Ashuelot River in Keene, hoping to find some marsh bellflowers. As this photo shows, I sure found plenty of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Beautiful ribbons of it lined the banks. They are probably why I see so many ducks and geese here. Ducks eat the seeds and geese eat the leaves.

The water was about as high as it gets thanks to some very heavy rain throughout the month of July. Another foot or so higher and in places it would have been over the trail.

Luckily most of the trail stays high and dry but I found the side trail I needed to use to see the marsh bellflowers was under about 6 inches of water, so I couldn’t get to them or the mad dog skullcap plants that live there. With my lungs I can’t be falling into rivers. I doubt I could swim ten strokes.

I did see a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis) up to its neck in water but it was blooming. I know another plant along the river in Swanzey that is sometimes under water when the river is high, but it doesn’t seem to bother it.

The small flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are more white than blue this year from what I’ve seen so far. This plant has an odd look, sometimes reaching ten feet tall with flowers hardly bigger than a pencil eraser at the very top. Luckily this flower was just about at eye level, because the stalks of this plant don’t take kindly to being bent. They’ll often snap right in two.

I’ve seen thousands of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) buds this year but not a single flower yet. That’s okay with me though, because I’ve always thought the buds were as pretty as the flowers. They seem to have a deeper color.

There is a bumper crop of blueberries this year. The bushes are loaded with berries anywhere I go so all the critters will be happy. I’ve noticed that the birds aren’t paying much attention to them yet though.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) grew here and there but it doesn’t seem to be doing well along this trail this year. The plants looked a bit weak and kind of ragged.

I saw quite a lot of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) plants along the trail but this was the only one I saw with fruit. After a time these green berries will become deep, purple-black. And then they’ll disappear. I think turkeys get them before anyone else. A good healthy plant can stand just about as tall as a turkey’s eye is from the ground.

As I say every year; spring and fall begin on the forest floor. This Indian cucumber root illustrates what I mean.

“But it’s only August,” you say. “Surely the Indian cucumber root was a fluke?” Unfortunately, that argument can’t stand; this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) also whispered hints of fall.

And so did this sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Soon all of the squirrels and chipmunks will be gathering their nuts and seeds. Who needs a calendar?

I couldn’t decide which was prettier, this royal fern or its shadow, so I took a photo of both.

A depression in the woods was filled with water but the water had a strange cloudy film on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I can’t imagine what caused it, way off in the woods like it was. It wasn’t oily and it didn’t look like dust. I thought of mushroom spores but it would have taken a lot of mushrooms to do this.

Clubmosses also release spores that float on water but not this one. It looked like it was finished. An interesting thing about clubmoss spores is how, if you fill a glass with water and cover the surface of the water with spores, when you stick your finger in the water and pull it out again it will be covered in spores but will be perfectly dry. Clubmoss spores are waxy and hydrophobic, which means resistant to water. They are also extremely flammable, and once made up the flash powder used to create the flash photographers used to take a photo.

The oak tree that the beavers girdled is done. I don’t know why beavers do this to trees and then leave them standing. After all, the succulent buds and branches are a big reason why they cut trees.

There won’t be any buds on this tree, and the branches will be dry. There wasn’t a leaf on them. Soon the dead branches will begin to fall, and they’re right above the trail.

It’s really too bad that beavers don’t eat Canada mayflowers, because there are many thousands of them on the floor of any forest I visit. They’re a native plant but they act like an invasive plant by creating monocultures that keep other plants from growing. I’ve seen huge stands of nothing but Canada mayflower. And may heaven help you if they get into your garden. Those speckled berries will be bright red and ripe soon, and they’ll disappear quickly.

The closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) that grow in one spot along the trail looked to be in good shape. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. Closed gentian leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian. This plant is relatively rare in this area.

And there was the bridge. It crosses what is usually a small stream but on this day the water was licking at its sides. The water level in the river hasn’t dropped much and we’ve had more rain since that day, so I hope it hasn’t washed away.

This photo from last year shows the marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) I came to see. I hoped to get some better shots of the flowers but that probably won’t happen this year without a boat, because it just keeps on raining. Luckily this plant is a perennial so unless the entire riverbank where it grows washes away, I should be able to find it next year. I can’t say how rare it is but I’ve never seen it anywhere but here in this one spot, and I’ve been walking these riverbanks for over 50 years.

Pleasure is spread through the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find them. ~William Wordsworth

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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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