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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Wildflowers’

Last Saturday was a beautiful cool, sunny day perfect for a walk in the woods, so I chose one of my favorite rail trails in Swanzey. It crosses the Ashuelot river and I thought I’d see how low the water was.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) often turn a beautiful pumpkin orange in the fall and it looked like they were well on their way.

There was nothing strange about finding Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) out here but what was very odd about this particular plant was the bright red splotch on its upper tier of leaves. I’ve never seen this before. It looks like someone has dripped paint on it but no, it was part of the leaf color. I’ve never seen this plant turn red in the fall so I can’t explain it.

What may have been a Virginia ctenucha moth caterpillar crawled up a grass stem. According to the I naturalist website this caterpillar inhabits wet meadows and open spaces with bushes from North Carolina to Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It was quite small.

A woodpecker of some sort made a hole right below the stitched holes made by a sapsucker, which is another woodpecker. Not something you see every day.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) just up out of the soil and pushing up the leaf litter.

There were many fly agarics all along the trail. They often grow in large colonies.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) grew on many species of tree along this trail. I like this lichen’s simplicity; what you see is what you get with this one. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify it, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

This trail is level, wide and shaded and a lot of bike riders use it. I saw one with a flat tire on this day, so they had to turn from rider to hiker. I hoped they didn’t have too far to go.

Big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. It’s everywhere I go now and just a few years ago I hardly saw it. I put my hand in this moss on this day and found it soft and thick like a cushion, and also quite damp.

I’ve wondered if the dampness that the moss seems to retain is why so many other plants come up through it. This pink lady’s slipper certainly seemed happy surrounded by it. Many mosses soak up water like a sponge and release it slowly over time and I have a feeling that this is one of them.

New England asters bloomed in only one spot on this day but it was a beautiful plant, loaded with blossoms.

What I think were common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) puffballs grew all along the trail. I was surprised because I usually only see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I’ve seen them with a beautiful lemon yellow color.

Someone had shot off a bottle rocket from somewhere and it landed out here on the trail. It’s a wonder it didn’t start a fire. Dry white pine needles are excellent material for starting a campfire.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly at first but this is how they end up. The odd thing about this example is how the flower didn’t stand up straight after it was pollinated, or maybe it wasn’t pollinated. Usually once pollinated the flowers will stand perfectly vertical and look directly up at the sky, and that’s how the current phase of their lives will end.

I was very surprised to see shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) here. I’ve only seen this plant in two other places so it seems to be on the rare side in this area. It is also called flame leaf sumac, dwarf sumac, or winged sumac. These shrubs were about chest high but I’ve read that they can reach about 8-10 feet. The foliage turns a beautiful, brilliant orange-red in fall.

I was also surprised to see a red trillium (Trillium erectum) still hanging on to its leaves. Once the plant is done flowering in late April to mid-May the leaves don’t usually last long. They like cool, damp weather but they certainly haven’t had any of that this year.

I was finally at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle where I could see what the water level of the river was out here in the middle of nowhere. In Keene the river is so low that for the first time in my memory Ashuelot falls on West street have gone dry.

It’s hard to tell from photos but the river in this spot was about as low as I’ve ever seen it. If you walked across it here under the old trestle I doubt you’d even get your knees wet.

Some trees looked appropriately fall-like but they were also in bright sunshine. I’ve noticed that some trees are changing early and they say it’s due to stress from lack of rain. 

Though I would have loved to have stayed in the woods for days of course I couldn’t, so I turned and followed the trail back. And, I should add, I saw all kinds of things that I missed the first time. And that’s why John Burroughs said To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.  

I would have plenty of company on my walk back. Chipmunks are having a good year and they’ll have good times in the future, because we have a good crop of acorns and the pine trees are loaded with cones. It looks like a mast year.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) continue to bloom heavily in spite of the drought. This plant was growing in a dried up streambed and was doing well. Something I’ve learned about them over the years is that they’ll grow and bloom in shade, as this one was.

A New England aster flower is made up of many petal like ray flowers around the outer perimeter and disc flowers in the center. The disc flowers are sometimes called tube flowers because of their shape. At about an inch across they are the largest flower heads found on any of our asters but this year I’ve noticed they’re a bit smaller, probably due to stress from the drought. The Native American word for this plant is said to have meant “It brings the fall.” They used the plant medicinally to relieve many ailments, including pain and fever.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has grown back and is blooming again after being mowed down.  This European plant, according to the U.S. Forest Service, is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful. Here the plant is planted intentionally along with other invasives like crown vetch to stabilize hillsides. I’m not sure how we can complain about a plant being invasive when we are planting it along our roadsides.

And here was crown vetch (Securigera varia) growing right along with the knapweed. Some flowers seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better, and one of those is crown vetch. It’s very beautiful.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are still blossoming but not as they usually do. I didn’t think anything could bother such a tough plant but apparently they do not like dryness. Theses examples grew in the shade and didn’t look quite as ragged as many I’ve seen. The Native American Chippewa tribe used this plant to treat snakebite and colds. The roots were used to rid the body of worms.

I saw this plant in a local garden and I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Though the flowers reminded me somewhat of a black eyed Susan the petals seemed strangely tubular. Luckily it was easy to find online. It is indeed a black eyed Susan called “Henry Eilers.” I’ve read that it is a “standout among black eyed Susans,” and I would guess that would be true.

Datura (Datura stramonium) is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. Taken in small enough doses the plant is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here. I can’t say that it sounds like a good time.

Datura has many common names, one of which is thorn apple. The unripe seed pod in this photo shows how that name came about.

Bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis) grew in standing water at the shoreline of a local pond. The small, sword shaped leaves had no stems (petioles) and each unbranched stem grew to about a foot tall with a single, light purple flower at its tip.

Because bog asters usually grows in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them. They grow all around the shore of this pond in great numbers but this is the only place I’ve ever seen them. Each flower is about half the size of a New England aster.

Dandelions always warn me that the weather is going to turn cooler because they don’t like hot weather. I didn’t realize it until I started watching them closely for this blog but they bloom heavily in spring and then disappear in the hottest months, and then re-appear when it cools off in the fall. This is one of the first I’ve seen since June.

As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This club shaped plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot or so down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.

You’d never know it by looking at the tiny flowers but horseweed is in the aster family. Each flower is smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser and it’s hard to catch them in bloom.

What I believe were smooth blue asters (Aster laevis) grew on a roadside. These small plants were most likely second growth because the roadside had been mowed, so it’s hard to tell what their maximum height would be but the blue green foliage, lack of hairs on the leaves and stems, smallish 1 inch flowers, and lack of leaf petioles all point to the smooth blue aster. Also, the plants grow as a single stalk for part of their height before branching, and that’s another identifying characteristic. What bothers me about saying definitely that is what they are however, is my color finding software. In this flower it sees blue and purple…

…and in this flower it sees purple. I know that flowers can be called blue when they’re really purple, like blue vervain for instance, but I’d like to see these plants again next year to be sure, preferably before they’ve been mowed.

I’m waiting for the darker purple asters to appear but so far all I’ve seen is this one in a garden. They’re my favorite colors for an aster but they aren’t as common as the lighter colors.

I like this cosmos with frosted edges I saw in a garden.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) still blooms, and is having the best year that I can remember. It must like dryness. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals, as these examples show. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

There is white rattlesnake root and then there is white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) and of the two snakeroot is the one to be careful with. This plant is very toxic because of a compound called tremetol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it. These days dairymen mix the milk from many cows and make sure this and other toxic plants are removed from their pastures so there is little chance of the plant having any real impact, but in days past if humans drank the milk or ate the meat of cows that had eaten this plant they could come down with what was once called “milk sickness.” The sickness caused heart or liver failure and Abraham Lincoln’s mother is believed to have died from it.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s  large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans.

A sunflower turned its back to the sun. According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant. Since this one was not facing into the sun I’d say it has matured.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. ~John Ruskin

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Last weekend I felt the urge to climb, so off I went to Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I know better than to deny the urge because it only gets stronger as time passes. The town History of Swanzey, New Hampshire says that Mount Caesar was named after Caesar Freeman, a freed black slave and one of the original settlers here. Some believe that he is is buried somewhere on it.

One of the first things I saw was a nice clump of lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids. Its beautiful pouch like pink flowers appear in May and last for a week or two, depending on the weather. I was happy to find them growing all along the trail, almost to the summit.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. This one had apparently been pollinated because it had a seed pod.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) bloomed in sunnier spots along the trail. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian Tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I saw a bright yellow, very hairy caterpillar on a twig. I believe it might be a Virginian tiger moth caterpillar (Spilosoma virginica.) This caterpillar is also called yellow bear and I think this is the first time I’ve seen one. I’m not sure what those four yellow bumps are.

Up and up I went. Mount Caesar is the most difficult climb I do these days but by normal standards it really isn’t that difficult unless you have breathing issues. I saw two or three people race up and down it before I even made it to the top but they weren’t interested in what they might see along the trail. Only the end of the trail is important to many people and they miss a lot of the beauty of nature by thinking that way. Some are even more interested in listening to their phones than the birds and I saw that happening here as well. All I can say about that is, if you are in the woods to enjoy nature racing through them as fast as you can go and plugging your ears so you can’t hear anything is not considered being in nature. Being in nature means allowing it to fill all of your senses while you are there. It means being completely immersed in the experience. When you are there be there, fully. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll get far more out of the experience.

What I believe were ink cap mushrooms grew in the middle of the trail, but just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it is seen and I doubt anyone noticed them because a few had been stepped on. I think they might have been the hare’s foot ink cap (Coprinopsis lagopus) but I could be wrong. I do know from personal experience that ink caps can appear very different at different times; even at different times of the same day, because their lives are very short. I liked the maroon shimmer of these examples. These mushrooms often grow in the forest, as these did.

Once they produce spores they’re done, and that usually takes one day but on this day there were plenty more coming. They’re called ink caps because their caps liquify and turn into what looks like ink.

I saw things here on this day that I’ve never seen before and one of them was shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum) producing spores. The yellowish club like spore producing sporophylls at the tip of each plant are where the spores are produced and once the spores are released to the wind they can take up to 20 years to germinate. In my experience sporophylls aren’t common on this clubmoss. The leaves, called microphylls, resemble scales more than actual leaves and for some reason they are very shiny. Shining clubmoss is unusual and easy to identify because it is unbranched and grows fairly erect.

Note: A helpful reader has pointed out that this is actually bristly clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum,) which I’ve never heard of. Shining clubmoss doesn’t produce sporophylls, which explains why I never see them.  

Another thing I discovered on this day was that the unripe berries of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) are white. This plant is also called checkerberry and it is the first plant I ever learned well enough to know on sight, probably when I was just 5 or 6 years old. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed to relieve pain because they contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin. Since I’ve known these berries as red my entire life seeing them white was quite a surprise. I don’t suppose I’ve ever wondered what they would look like in their unripe state.

I was trying to capture the beautiful luminosity of the forest when I heard a loud crashing behind me. I thought “Oh great, another bear” but no, it was a deer. It stopped and watched me for a bit, blending into the forest so well that I couldn’t get a shot of it from where I was. Of course as soon as I started moving so did the deer, and it was off like a shot. The odd thing was it didn’t really run away; I could hear it jumping and thrashing in the woods for a while afterwards as I continued climbing, as if it was running along beside me.

I saw the deer clearing stone walls with ease, jumping so high it had feet to spare. I was wishing I had legs that could do  that.

A young oak had fallen and split lengthwise to reveal that it was completely hollow, most likely chewed up by carpenter ants. There are far more hollow trees in the woods than most people realize. If you have a tree on your property and you see what looks like sawdust around its base you should call an arborist, especially if it is near your house. Friends of mine had their barn cut in half by a hollow white pine that fell on it just a few years ago.

I could look at this all day. It is worthy of hanging in an art gallery, in my opinion.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it in the fall. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Yellow spots form on wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves before fall even arrives, and they slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful light coming through the trees. At times it was hard to focus on anything else.

Before you know it (unless you’re climbing with me) you’re at the summit. I remember how surprised I was the day I realized that I had been climbing a huge piece of granite. The trail ends just as it begins; with bare granite bedrock.

There is a glacial erratic up here that is nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It is said to rock back and forth like the 40 ton glacial erratic over on Hewe’s Hill called Tippin Rock, but I didn’t feel like heaving and grunting over boulders on this day.

Instead I wanted to visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulose.) Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. When wet toadskin lichens are rubbery and pliable and feel much like your ear lobe but when they dry out they are much like a potato chip, and will crack just as easily. They are naturally a deep pea green but when dry they turn ash gray as this one has. They will simply sit and wait for rain for eons if necessary and they, along with great blue herons, have taught me a lot about patience.

All those black dots on the lichen in the previous photo are this lichen’s fruiting bodies, where it’s spores are produced. I’ve noticed that they often seem to form where the lichen stays wettest longer after a rain. The head of a pin is .06 inches (1.5 mm) in diameter and one of the toadskin lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecium) could easily hide behind one. The apothecium is where the lichen’s spores are produced and in this case it is tiny black disc with a sunken center that makes it look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) of the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. This photo isn’t great but I was happy that it showed the detail that it does. What looks like a piece of wood in the upper right is actually a bit of a white pine needle, if that tells you anything about scale.

The views weren’t very good but that didn’t bother me. As I’ve said before, if I climbed for the view I’d be disappointed most of the time, because views are weather dependent. On this day there was a milky sky and that almost always means that far off scenes and landscapes will not reproduce well in the camera. In fact it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the views, it’s the trying to reproduce them that I don’t enjoy. If I ever stop blogging I can easily see myself no longer carrying a camera when I’m in the woods.

This is what I mean by a milky sky; almost pure white. Still, in my opinion there’s no such thing as a bad photo of Mount Monadnock, so I’ll just leave you with this one. 

No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. ~Ansel Adams

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Our beautiful New England asters are now opening over a wider area and though I’m not seeing them everywhere I go yet I usually see them each day at least. They make summer’s end a little more palatable.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers.

Nodding smartweed flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found one. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. In my experience it is rare to find one as open as this one was.

Only one smartweed is called lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa,) but even nodding smartweed has the “thumbprint.”  The dark spot that appears on each leaf is said in legend to have been left by a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently.) It has been there ever since.

It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, because out of ten or twelve plants this is the only one still blooming.

Chicory one of my favorite summer flowers because of its large, easy to see flowers and beautiful blue color. I can’t think of another flower, either wild or cultivated, quite like it.

Nodding bur marigold plants (Bidens cernua) grow in the wet mud at the water’s edge at rivers and ponds. As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water, and that can make them tricky to get a good photo of.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I often find this plant growing along old forgotten dirt roads in the woods. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has prickly flower buds and hairy leaves.

Each strap shaped “petal” on a panicled hawkweed flower head is actually a ray flower. Some have teeth on the end as this one did but others may not.

Seed heads are also what you would expect to see on a hawkweed. Panicled hawkweed is one of our latest blooming hawkweeds.

For the first time I saw a blue toadflax blossom (Nuttallanthus canadensis) with its “mouth” open. It’s hard to see but it’s there under that upper lobe. The name toadflax comes from its flax like leaves, and its toad like mouth. Whatever you call it it’s a pretty little plant that blooms for most of the summer. The side view shows its long nectar spur.

I have pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) in my yard but these examples in a local park bloom weeks earlier than mine. Unlike my plants, these plants often look terrible; all black and crisp leaves. My plants haven’t even showed color on the buds yet, but I hope they do better than these. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well in my yard and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I always like to see if I can get a shot looking into the throat of the turtle. It’s very hairy in there but it doesn’t bother bumblebees. They can often be found swarming over these plants.  

At a local pond white boneset and purple loosestrife dominated the scene. If history is any indication it won’t be long before purple loosestrife takes over the whole area.

I’m seeing fewer soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) flowers these days and I think its run has just about ended for this year. Someday I’m going to chop up the roots and flowering stems and see if I can get soapy water out of them. I’ve read that it gets soapy enough to be able to be used to wash clothes.

No, it isn’t May but this flower head I saw on a viburnum shrub in a local park reminded me of May. It is an almost exact duplicate of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flowers that bloom in that month, though it was about half the size. Like hobblebush flowers the large sterile flowers around the perimeter are there to attract insects to the smaller fertile flowers found in the center. I haven’t been able to identify the shrub, which was much taller and more upright than a hobblebush, but I was happy to see it.

Hydrangeas have been blooming for a while now. These plants live far back in my memory; my grandmother always grew them and called them snowballs. This old fashioned type is called “Annabelle.”

Sedums are just starting to show color. For those who don’t know, sedums have thick succulent leaves and fleshy stems and can be quite drought tolerant. They are also nectar rich and will attract butterflies.

I think it’s just about time to say goodbye to the beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum,) because I’m seeing more seedpods than flowers now. This plant is an annual so it will have to grow again from seed next year. These little beauties are usually barely ankle high and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Winters have always seemed long to me because I’ve always been a flower lover. To make winter seem shorter I know that the secret is to stop longing to see flowers again, but how can you not long to see something so beautiful? I haven’t worked that out yet.

What happens to people who have witnessed the miraculous?  ~Jim Harrison

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Each fall as the silky dogwood berries ripen the cedar waxwings return to this spot on the Ashuelot River. They supplement their berry diet with insects and perch on logs and boulders, waiting. When an insect is seen they fly out and grab it in mid-air often returning to the same perch, much as a dragonfly would. They are sleek, beautiful birds that are very fast, and I love watching them.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact every time I see them I wonder if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

Though this might look like the same bird that is in the first photo that bird’s bill is hooked and this one’s bill is not. I chose this shot because I thought it gave a better look at the beautiful bird’s black bandit mask and crest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or can even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that the story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. It did this several times until I moved away from its berries. Only then did it leave me alone. There’s little that’s more jarring than having a bird fly like a miniature jet plane right at your face.

I saw some goldfinches picking the petals off a zinnia and I wondered what they were up to. I thought when the gardener returned and saw all the zinnias were bald they wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t know who that gardener is but if you’re reading this, here’s your culprit.

Once they spit the petal out they still had something to chew on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m going to have to look into how zinnia seeds form because goldfinches are great seed eaters. I’ve seen them eating bull thistle seeds almost everywhere I go this year. Imagine being light enough to sit on a flower.

These birds were only picking the petals off the white zinnias and didn’t touch other colors. This one sat and waited its turn for a peck at a white flower while sitting on a purple one and I wondered why it looked a little shabbier than the others. Was it molting? A juvenile? A less colorful female? As of right now I can’t answer any of these questions. Maybe it was just the quality of the light.

I’m not sure what is going on but I seem to be a dragonfly magnet this year. This one came and sat on a branch close enough to whisper in my ear. I don’t know its name but it’s a cute little thing.

Unfortunately other insects like deerflies seem to find me likeable as well. I thought this insect was a deerfly at first but though the wing markings are similar, now I’m not so sure. It was on a building at work early one morning. In any event for those who don’t know what a deerfly is, they have a very painful bite. Even more painful than horseflies.

I recently found this milkweed plant covered with aphids.  Not surprisingly, they are called milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) and are tiny, bright yellow/orange insects with black legs that pierce plant tissue and suck the juices out of plants. An aphid colony can produce large amounts of honeydew which attracts sooty mold and is a black color.

Aphids stunt plant growth and if not controlled will eventually kill the plant. These aphids are also called oleander aphids and in places like Florida can often be found on that shrub. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant.

The corn never grew in the fields due to the drought, which has now reached moderate or severe proportions in different parts of the state, so all of the volunteer plants in the cornfields are being raked under in a cloud of dust. According to those in the know this has been the 4th hottest summer on record in our area.

Even though it has been as dry as I can remember I have seen a few mushrooms. Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown. As it ages this fungus turns a dark red / maroon.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil. The example in this photo was about as big in diameter as a hen’s egg.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I just read the other day that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work.

This shot shows how the eyelash fungus can curl its “lashes” inward. They’re fascinating things that there seems to be very little information about. These examples grew on a damp, leaking tree wound and the largest of them was smaller than a pea.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up. The tree that these examples were on however, fell naturally.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the mature cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

Can this be your everything for a moment; all that there is? It was mine for a time, kneeling there in the forest.

Young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) mushrooms found here often have a metallic yellow color when they just come up. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic, but I think that would be the red variety with white spots (Amanita muscaria) that is commonly found in Europe. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason and those who used it were called “berserkers.” By all accounts I’ve read berserkers were very frightening people.

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves, but what looks like a witch hat is actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I’ve seen lots of these but I’ve never seen one with hair. It’s nice to occasionally be completely surprised by reality. It takes us down a peg or two and prevents us from believing that we know it all.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read a post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I could tell them where they grew in this region. They are researching the co-evolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall like those seen here. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when the aphids leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and they collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

When mature the galls become tomato red. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same living thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these except maybe when red baneberry (Actaea rubra) decides to have white fruit instead of red. It doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should ever be eaten. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff. Actually white baneberry berries remind me of Kermit the frog’s eyes.

Each berry of a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds. Soon they’ll turn a beautiful bright, shiny red.  This is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K. Deer often come by and chomp off the berries of the plant so I was happy to find these.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginianadangle beautifully red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. It reminds me each year how fall, like spring, actually starts on the forest floor.

Once fall begins there’s no stopping it and before long it moves from the forest floor to the understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show so well.

And of course fall moves from the understory into the trees above, and you can just see that happening in the yellow tree in the center of this hill on the other side of Half Moon Pond, just a short distance down from the top. It’s an ash tree I believe, which is one of the first trees to turn in the fall. By the way, the name “ash” can be traced back to old English where it meant “spear,” because ash wood was the first choice for the shaft of such a weapon.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.
~Sanchita Pandey

I hope all of you are experiencing the beauty of nature, wherever you may live.

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It seems as if it must be time to say goodbye to maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) because most of those I see have burned up from the drought. I realized when I saw this blossom that I had never seen its cousin the Deptford pink this year. It’s the first summer I haven’t found one. Both plants are from Europe though, so maybe they can’t take the kind of heat we’ve seen this year.

I saw what I’m fairly sure was a clammy ground cherry (Physalis heterophylla) plant growing at the edge of an unmown field. I haven’t seen the edible berries yet, but if this is the clammy ground cherry they will be yellow. Smooth ground cherry (Physalis subglabrata) fruits are orange, red, or purple and that plant doesn’t have hairs on its stem, leaves, and flowers like this one does.

The fruit of ground cherries is enclosed in a papery husk that looks like a Chinese lantern. This native plant is in the nightshade family along with its relatives; tomatoes and potatoes. A few posts ago I showed a tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica and Physalis ixocarpa) flower and fruit and they looked remarkably like this wild plant. That’s because they are in the same family and closely related.

I found a spot where many thousands of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed. It was in full sun in dry gravel on the side of a hill. They were obviously very happy here; I’ve never seen so many in one spot. The blossoms seem to float in the air because the plants themselves are so wispy and thin.

Slender gerardia has the unusual habit of dropping its flowers each afternoon. Some websites will tell you that the flowers close at night but if you go to see it in the early evening you’ll find the ground around each plant littered with tiny fallen blossoms. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

The funny little plants called false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) have appeared in force and I’m seeing them everywhere. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Many hawkweeds bloom at different times than false dandelions, which also helps when trying to identify them.

False dandelion leaves look like miniature versions of dandelion leaves because they are nowhere near as wide or as long.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) are seen everywhere at this time of year. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant, which will grow under a heavy leaf canopy as it was doing here. The small, half inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. 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 and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) have just started blooming. This is a plant that teaches patience because it suddenly appears in late July and grows for several weeks before it flowers. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. In this part of the state this plant grows side by side with the nodding burr marigold (Bidens Cernua,) which is also called smooth beggar’s ticks and looks very similar. The plant gets its common name from the way its barbed seeds cling to clothing. Books say that it reaches 3 1/2 feet tall but I’ve seen some get close to six feet. The one in the photo is more typical of its often sprawling habit. I’ve also seen these plants growing in water at the edge of ponds.

It’s hard to tell if a purple stemmed beggar’s tick blossom is fully opened but I think this one is close.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are still blossoming but this one was looking sad, probably because of the extreme dryness. It must be really dry to bother such a tough plant.

Though this one doesn’t have one you will often find a tiny red / purple flower in the center of all the white flowers on a Queen Anne’s lace flower head. It’s there but it’s very small and most people never notice it.  

So small in fact, that I had to try many time to get this photo, and then once I had it I had to over expose it to show the tiny reddish flower. I went through all that because I’ve found that many people don’t know the tiny flower is even there. Legend says it is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. I have seen lots of ants around them in the past.

I saw a single globe thistle (Echinops) blossom this year and it was about finished by the time I found it. This plant will bloom for weeks and also makes an excellent cut flower. It likes full sun and doesn’t mind dry soil. Cooler night time temperatures bring out a deeper blue in the flowers. The plant often self-seeds so the spent blossoms should be cut off unless you want a colony. On the other hand, though it’s originally from Europe and Asia I’ve never seen it escape a garden and grow in the wild, so I wouldn’t say it was invasive. Bees love the blossoms, but I don’t know if birds eat the seeds. Finches might.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is an odd plant with clusters of flowers that seem reluctant to open. Even after they do open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles, or hemorrhoids. In some areas it is also called fireweed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. These plants can sometimes reach lofty heights. I’ve seen them 6 or 7 feet tall.

Once pilewort blossoms go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) has started blooming and I’m seeing it everywhere. It isn’t a terribly showy plant but it’s quite obvious if you know what it looks like. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. 

Sweet everlasting never looks like a flower until it is gone by and its bracts are all that’s left. The common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An unusual fact about this plant is how it smells strongly of warm maple syrup. It was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our only pink St. John’s wort; the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum.) Thought I’m still seeing plenty of plants I’m seeing fewer blossoms so I think its time with us is waning. As its common name implies it prefers wet areas and is considered a wetland indicator, so if you see it you’ll know that you’re in a wet area. I usually find it at the edges of ponds and rivers and it’s beauty makes it very much worth searching for.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

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Last weekend was another hot, humid one so I spent some time at one of my favorite spots along the river. Due to our ongoing drought the water was as low as I’ve seen it get and some of the plants that grow here were looking parched. In spring I would have probably been in water up to my chest if I stood in this spot.

An invasive purple loosestrife plant (Lythrum salicaria) made a mistake and grew just a yard or so from the water. When the river fills and comes back to normal this young plant will be completely underwater.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows along the riverbank and I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of each dark purple berry. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do 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. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Downstream a still pool looked inviting on such a hot day and if I were 12 years old again I would have been swimming rather than sweating. This river was very polluted when I was a boy but now children often swim right here in this spot and people also fish it for trout. I see an occasional bald eagle flying along the river and great blue herons often stand along its banks. We seem to have a shortage of herons this year though. I’ve only seen two this summer and one of them was standing in the middle of a road, slowing traffic.

Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed grew on the edge of the pool.

There is a lot of iron in the stones in this part of the river but I don’t know if that is what colored the riverbed in this spot or not. Whatever it was looked almost like algae.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. They bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

A wasp was busy pollinating boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum.) This is another plant that won’t be blooming too much longer.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries, even grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. Still, I can count the times I’ve found it in the wild on one hand, so it can hardly be called invasive. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Tansy is a natural insect repellent and has historically been used as such but a crab spider was full of hope that an insect might be lured in by its bright yellow flowers.

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) grows prolifically here. This plant has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify. In fact, I’m never 100% sure that I’ve gotten it right.

I was very surprised to find marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) growing on the riverbank. This plant seems to be spreading quickly from place to place and I was happy to see it here because I often have to search high and low for it. Not only is this the only pink flowered St. John’s wort I’ve ever heard of; both its buds and seed pods are bright red.

Common St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) still bloomed here but I haven’t seen it anywhere else for a while now. This plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times.

What I call a spontaneous gift of nature stopped me in my tracks. The soft glow of the sun shining through the red leaves of a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was beautiful. You can’t plan things like this; you simply have to be there and if you are you may see something you have never seen or even dreamed of.

Those silky dogwood leaves really shouldn’t be red this early, and neither should this burning bush leaf   (Euonymus alatus) be pink already. The first day of fall is nearly a month away unless it comes early, and some of the plants I’ve seen are hinting that it might.

These oak leaves weren’t hinting at an early fall; they were shouting it.

But on the other hand some oaks were just now working on continuation of the species.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and by the looks the ones on this plant were already gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each fertilized flower turns into a seed pod that hold two black seeds.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) bloomed along the river bank in shadier spots. This aster likes wet places and partial sunshine. It can grow up to 5 feet tall on unbranched stems, but these plants leaned out toward the river.

I didn’t know that fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) bloomed here until I saw the pretty seed pods. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the plant’s seeds. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. I like the little stars around each seed pod.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) plants bloomed on the riverbank and it struck me when I saw them how so many plants grow and bloom in places that will most likely be completely under water in a few months. Indeed during spring thaws I’ve seen many feet of water cover the very spot I was kneeling in. It was a bit unsettling to think about and I’m not sure how such seemingly delicate plants can survive it.

It’s always nice to spend part of a day on the river I grew up just a few yards from and have known all of my life. I saw so many interesting and beautiful things in less than a mile of waterway, and that always makes me imagine what I’d see if I could explore the whole thing. Someday maybe.

Meanwhile I’m content with the beauty I know that I’ll always find when I come here, like this beautiful cedar waxwing caught in a ray of sunshine. It was another of those spontaneous gifts of nature. I hope all of you receive similar gifts.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves and though perspective makes it look as if these stalks were taller than the leaves they were not.

Arrowheads have such simple clean white flowers; they are very easy to understand.

Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Once it finds a place it likes it will spread.

The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have taken on that papery petal look that signals their passing. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek echinos, which means hedgehog or sea-urchin, and it refers to the spiny center. Soon that’s all that will be left and it will persist through winter, feeding gold finches and other birds. Coneflowers are native to our prairies.

I took this photo because of the beautiful intense yellow of the goldenrods but it’s getting harder to get a shot of goldenrods without purple loosestrife being there with them.

Groundnut (Apias americana) has just come into bloom. This plant grows as a vine, usually twining its way through and over any nearby shrubs or tall plants like goldenrod. Its flowers often can’t be seen because of all the foliage and when they are seen you usually see a view like the one in the above photo.

But it’s worthwhile to look a little closer because groundnut flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown. They are complicated things but they always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

From the side groundnut flowers look even more like a helmet. They’re very unusual flowers.

I saw this clematis from quite a distance and decided to look a little closer because I liked its plum color.

But this clematis came in two shades of plum. This darker shade appears on the new flowers and they lighten as they age.

This plant has had me scratching my head for a few years now. At first I thought that it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves, but the USDA says that it doesn’t grow in this area of the country. Blogging friend Clare Pooley thought that it might be Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) but again the USDA says that plant doesn’t grow naturally in this area. And that is the hitch; this plant is in a garden so it isn’t growing naturally, and that means that it could be anything. I’ve read that the calyx and a few other identifying features will tell the tale so I’ve got to get back and take more photos.

Purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is another flower that shines out its divine inner light. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. I always have to  stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics. Though I’ve never eaten one I used to dig them for clients of mine that grew them for food and I’ll never forget how very tall these plants can be. This one grew up through the middle of a native dogwood and towered over it.

Obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana) are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed them.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is said to be very invasive but I usually have to look for them each year. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities. In the Middle Ages, yellow toadflax was called wild snapdragon because of its close resemblance to the garden snapdragon.

The common name toadflax comes from the leaves , which are narrow like flax leaves, and the flower’s mouth “like unto a frog’s mouth,” from an old herbal. Another old source says that “Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.”

The trick though, is that you have to pinch the flower to get to see its open mouth. When pinched on the sides the lower lip falls and the flower opens, revealing four toothlike stamens and a double pistil or tongue. It takes a heavy insect like a bumblebee to force open the flowers and get inside. Once inside they have to crawl as far down into the spur as they can to reach the nectar with their tongues. It sounds like an awful lot of work, so I hope the nectar is extra sweet.

This is the time of year when gardens are filled with phlox blossoms, some so fragrant they will just carry you away on a warm late summer evening. I wanted to get a photo of this particular example because it is such a difficult color for my camera to get correct unless the lighting is perfect. I think it came out true to the original.

White can be another tough color to photograph so I had to try those too. Phlox are beautiful things.

I’ve spoken here probably far too many times of how colorblindness can often prevent my seeing red in nature. If a red cardinal lands in a green tree it immediately disappears from my sight and the same is true for the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis.) The first time I ever saw this flower a couple of years ago I had the help of Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog. She sent me directions on where to find them, and it was worth the effort. This time I found them with the help of a friend from work. They grew on the banks of a stream and though I was almost stepping on them and still had trouble seeing them I was finally able to find them, and once again they were very beautiful.

Red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to see, so I had to take many photos to get what you see here. A single cardinal flower has five petals with three on its lower lip and two on its upper. These petals come together in a tube at their base. This makes it very difficult for insects to get at the nectar which hides at the base of the tube, so cardinal flowers rely on hummingbirds for pollination. Its five stamens are joined together into another tube formed around the style, with brushy anthers at the top. When a hummingbird, or sometimes a butterfly, dips in to get at the nectar the anthers deposit a dot of pollen on its head. When it visits another flower pollination will be complete. This flower isn’t at all common here and so far getting close to it has involved a bit of work, along with muddy feet.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~Henri Matisse

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Last weekend I decided to visit the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. Hacked out of the bedrock over 150 years ago by the railroad, it is the only place I know of to find such a huge variety of plants, mosses, liverworts and algae. Because of the 50 foot height of the walls of this man made canyon and the trees growing above them it can be quite dark in here, even on a sunny day.

This was not a sunny day and photography was a challenge so I hope you won’t be too disappointed in the quality of what you find here.

The tip of a fern leaf revealed that something had pulled the tips of the fronds together with silk to form a ball. From what I’ve read a caterpillar of one of three native moth species in the genus Herpetogramma practice this leaf rolling and tying habit and so they are called fern leaf tiers. The ball is hollow on the inside and the caterpillar will live in it and feed on the leaf presumably until it is ready to become a moth.

The underside of a fertile frond was covered with small dots called sori, as can be seen in the previous photo. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose,) which I believe this was. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. It all seems so amazing and improbable.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time and in my opinion this is when they are at their most beautiful. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

I had to lighten this shot quite a lot but I wanted you to see the lush abundance of plant growth found here. It always reminds me of the Shangri-La described in the book Lost Horizons by James Hilton, which I read and enjoyed very much when I was a boy. It would take many years to identify all these plants.

I just read an interesting article about pink or “watermelon” snow found on the Presena glacier in northern Italy. The snow was colored by an algae bloom growing right on the snow rather than a spore release, but colored rains are common all over the world and they’re usually colored by the release of spores. The orange color seen in this place on the stone of the canyon is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. There have been red rains, black rains, and yellow and green rains, all colored by algae spores. The red “blood” rains usually wreak much havoc among the superstitious throughout the world, who believe such a thing is a bad omen.

I wasn’t happy to see purple loosestrife blooming here because it’s just about the most invasive plant we have in these parts. It’s right up there with Japanese knotweed.

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has big, light gathering leaves that give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow here so well. 

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on the flowering raspberry. It humped itself up when it saw me for some reason.

But then it straightened itself out and went on its way. Hickory tussock moth caterpillars 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.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich mineral laden water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

Since the drainage channels along the railbed were so low due to our prolonged drought I thought I’d visit with my friends the great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) which grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here. The great scented liverwort is such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day I was happy to see that most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

The beautiful reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

I don’t like to hang around with the liverworts too long because rocks fall from these walls regularly. Many of them land in the drainage channels as seen here, and some are big enough to crush a car. I love the golden green of the water here when the light is right.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still bloomed beautifully here. If you see a spirea when you look at this flower good for you; you know your plants. Spirea blossoms always look fuzzy due to their many stamens.

There wouldn’t be anything unusual about this particular tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) if it weren’t for the teeth marks on it. I first saw this a few years ago happening on lichens but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it on a fungus. I have a couple of theories about what made these marks and why; either a squirrel or chipmunk is scraping algae off the surface or they are inhibiting the growth of their teeth. They are both rodents and must gnaw to control tooth growth.

I saw the first New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the year on this day and I’m always of two minds about that first one. I’d like summer to go on for a few months longer but the sooner we get through winter the sooner spring will be here. New England asters are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. This one was kind of in between and it was very beautiful.

Joe Pye weed  (Eutrochium purpureum) kindly offered to show us what a true whorl is. You can see how its leaves radiate from a single point around the stem, so if the leaves were flat and you looked at them on edge they would look like a plate, all in one plane, with no leaf higher or lower on the stem than the others in the whorl. It’s good to know not just what a plant’s flowers look like, but their leaf shape and growth habits as well. When you’re out in the field surrounded by thousands of plants it is easy to get home, look at your hundreds of photos, and wonder “what on earth is that?”

There’s no doubt what this one is; a turtle head (Chelone glabra linifolia.) I was hoping they would be in bloom because I wanted my friend Dave to see them. When he first saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name. It seems odd to me because I have never seen turtleheads when I look at them. I think they look more like a fish mouth.

The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I think she looks more like a trout but maybe Greek turtles look different than New Hampshire ones.

Turtleheads are very susceptible to disease and the plants here were covered with molds and mildews.

White snakeroot grows here; one of two places I know of to find it. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers closely resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. Though boneset is used medicinally this plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so now milk sickness is almost 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.

Here is a closer look at a white snakeroot leaf. It looks nothing like boneset. You can often see the delicate tracery of leaf miners on these leaves. Native Americans used the root in a poultice to treat snakebite, and that’s how the plant gets its common name. If you don’t know what you’re doing however, it’s a plant best left alone.

Here are the leaves of boneset, knitted together around the stem like healing bones, and they are obviously very different from the leaf in the previous photo. Though many botanists will tell you it’s always best to identify plants by their flowers, in the case of boneset and white snakeroot with flowers that look nearly identical, it might be best to pay more attention to the leaves.

It was so dark by the time I got to the old lineman’s shack I had to use a flash to get a shot of it. I was happy to see the old place still standing, even it the gloom.

A feather had fallen on a fern leaf and pointed the way home, and home I went. When I come away from this place I always feel as if I have been cleansed and renewed. It is a place to be totally and completely immersed in nature and though it’s hard to explain in words, you never come out quite the same as you were when you went in. You gain something; you grow.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

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I was afraid that I wouldn’t find any eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) this year but it was only impatience making me think they were late. They actually came along right on schedule and as always are very beautiful. The plants get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

Here’s a closer look at the business end of the pollen bearing anthers. I really can’t think of a way to explain how small they are unless I compare each pollen grain to a single grain of salt.

Forked blue curls are annual plants that grow new from seed each year. They are very small and you have to get down on your hands and knees to see them up close but it’s worth it because they are beautiful. The plants bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant like this one did. This native plant grows as far west as Texas.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) are one of the first asters to bloom in late summer. They need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the wonky flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler. Though normally white, every now and then you see a purple one. That seems to be especially true just when they start blooming.

Big leaf aster gets its common name not surprisingly by way of its big, hand size leaves.

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some nuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good at tripping up hikers.

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summer sweet because of its sweet, spicy fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Bees love it too, and these plants are covered with them every time I visit them in bloom. If you’re trying to attract pollinators this shrub should be in your yard.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summer sweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush and whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns. Clethra was named wildflower of the year by the Virginia Wildflower Society in 2015. An odd fact about this native shrub is that it doesn’t seem to have any medicinal or culinary uses. I can’t find a single reference regarding its use by Native Americans but I feel certain that they must have used it in some way.

Field bindweeds (Convolvulus arvensis) are still blooming and aren’t they pretty? For me they are a time machine because they always propel me back to my boyhood.

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. Mallow, hollyhock, and many other species are in this family.

I have no idea what this plant is but I saw it in a local garden and felt compelled to get a photo of it because if you look closely at a single blossom you find that it looks like half a blossom. The following shot shows what I mean.

I’ve never seen flowers behave this way and I’d guess it must be a man made creation. If you happen to know its name I’d love to hear what it is.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

Shasta daisies aren’t performing very well here this year and I think it must be the heat and dryness we’ve had. The Shasta daisy was developed by plant breeder Luther Burbank over 100 years ago and was named for the white snow of Mount Shasta. These plants are a hybrid cross of the common roadside ox-eye daisy and an English field daisy called Leucanthemum maximum. They are one of the easiest perennials to grow and, other than an occasional weeding, need virtually no care. Dwarf varieties are less apt to have their stems bent over by heavy rains.

I always find northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing near water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. The tiny things are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed.

I was surprised to find a heavily shaded drainage ditch where pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) still bloomed beautifully. Both plants were important food sources for Native Americans.

Invasive rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) is short enough to be forced to grow right at the edge of the road if it wants to get any sunshine, so the roads look like they have been festooned with fuzzy pink ribbons for a while each summer. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the seedlings must be tough, because they don’t seem to mind being occasionally run over, or the poor dry soil found along the road side. When something is common that often means it is ignored, but as so often happens if you take a closer look you find that what you’ve been ignoring is actually quite beautiful.

Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a beautiful little flower that is not at all common here. Originally from Europe it has been grown in gardens here in the U.S. since the 1700s. Of course it has escaped gardens and now can be found along roadsides and in waste areas. I found these plants growing along a small stream. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall, so maybe they’re young plants.

Perennial pea is also called wild sweet pea, everlasting pea, and hardy sweet pea. The pods and seeds are toxic though, and shouldn’t be eaten.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers partial shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine. The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

We’re just coming into the time of year that I think of as the Monet period, when along the roadsides you see views that sometimes resemble a Monet painting. This view shows mostly goldenrod and purple loosestrife but soon there will be asters in many colors as well, and when all of it comes together it will be exceedingly beautiful. I hope all of you see similar scenes at this time of year.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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