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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Wildflowers’

In July all the big flowered sun lovers like chicory (Cichorium intybus) start coming along. The plants, originally from Europe, are considered roadside weeds by many but chicory is one of my favorite summer flowers because of its beautiful color. They seem to be having a good year this year and are flowering well. I found this one right on the side of a very busy road and every time a car went by it would blow back and forth, so this shot was a challenge. Each flower is about as big as a half dollar, or about 3/4 of an inch. They will close up and look like a shriveled bud in the early afternoon and then open again the next morning. Chicory plants like full sun all day long, so you’ll only find them growing where they get it.

This plant prefers shade. Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the largest and latest blooming of our native yellow loosestrifes. It can grow in large colonies of knee-high plants, and can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. The flowers are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground.

Luckily the plant’s stem is flexible and can be gently bent back so you can get a good look at the pretty flowers. The flowers 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 seeds of many plant species. 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. Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, which can just barely be seen in this shot.

This tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) was used to help keep a road embankment in place. It’s a native plant that gets its common name from the way its seeds cling to clothing like ticks. The plant is also called lance leaved coreopsis and that is where the lanceolata part of the scientific name comes from. Coreopsis is found in flower beds as well as in the wild and can form large colonies if left alone. You should take note of that fact before planting one in your garden. I’ve spent a lot of time pulling the seedlings in the past. The yellow flowers are about an inch across and stand at the top of thin, wiry stems.  This plant has a cousin known as greater tickseed that grows in the south.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another plant with seeds that like to stick to clothing using little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods. Though its flowers weren’t fully open it’s still easy to tell that this is another plant in the pea family. There is no nectar to be had but bumblebees collect the pollen. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. 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 big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have come into bloom and are as full of thorns as ever. I remember at the end of the growing season one year I saw a single flower left on a plant but it was right in the middle of the plant, and I paid for that photo with a few drops of blood. These plants are originally from Europe and are considered invasive but since nobody really want to touch them, they have been fairly successful. Goldfinches will be along to eat the seeds later on.

What I believe was a halictid bee was covered in thistle pollen. I loved its metallic sheen. These tiny bees are also called sweat bees, and when I did some reading about them, I was astounded to find how many of our fruits and vegetables they pollinate. It seems safe to say that if it wasn’t for them, we’d be eating a lot differently, and possibly a lot less.

Our native wintergreens are blooming now and the first to bloom is usually shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica). I saw only a few blooming though; this seems to be a bad year for the wintergreens. Where I usually see hundreds of blossoms, this year I’m lucky to see a dozen. Shinleaf’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds. Like several other native wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used to soothe many ailments.

The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf make it easy to identify. Since it persists through winter it is even a help when the flowers aren’t blooming.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphilla corymbosa or Pyrola umbellata) is also having a bad bloom year. It is related to the shinleaf and striped wintergreen that also appear in this post and like them it likes things on the dry side. I find it in sandy soil that gets dappled sunlight. It is a low growing native evergreen that can be easily missed when there are only one or two plants, but pipsissewa usually forms quite large colonies and that makes them easier to find. The leaves are also very shiny, which also helps.  The white or pink flowers are almost always found nodding downwards, as this photo shows.

If you very gently push the stem back with a finger you can get a look at the dime size, pretty flowers. They often show a blush of pink, as this one did. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of the wintergreens, in my opinion. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

In the summer striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, and even though I knew right where to look for it I had to walk back and forth several times to find it. It is a plant that is quite rare here; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity. Like other wintergreens It isn’t having a good year this year. There were maybe 8 plants here and this was the only one with flower buds, but its buds look as if they’re failing, so this plant probably won’t blossom.

Puffy, pretty little bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has been blooming for a while now. This is another plant in that huge pea (legume) family of plants. It was imported from Europe for use as a forage plant, but it has escaped cultivation and is now found just about everywhere. Its common name came about because someone thought its seedpods looked like a bird’s foot.

I mentioned a few posts ago that, as far as I knew plant breeders hadn’t been able to come up with a truly black flower, but nature has. I’ve looked at the flowers of black swallow wort (Cynanchum louiseae ) in all kinds of light and they always look black, not purple to me. This is a very invasive plant; a vine that likes to grow in the center of shrubs and will twine around the shrub’s branches, climbing up to the top where it can get more sun. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. It also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe sometime around 1900 as a garden specimen and of course has escaped. In places it has covered entire hillsides with its wiry, tangled stems and is called the dog strangler vine.

Narrow leaf cow wheat is blooming right on schedule and forest floors are covered with it. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite, and that’s what cow wheat is, a cute little thief.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I mostly find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests.

The coneflowers seem to be blooming early this year, but it’s probably just me. It’s another plant I think of as a fall flower, so seeing them in June is a bit of a jolt. I’m really not ready to think of fall just yet.

Hollyhocks are a great old fashioned garden flower that used to be used in the backs of perennial borders and the like, but I don’t see them used much anymore. It’s too bad because they have beautiful flowers.

This hollyhock had so much pollen it was falling off before the bees could get to it.

I found this purple bee balm in a local park but I’m of two minds about the flowers. They’re much fuller and robust than the native red bee balms but I think I still like the red flowers best.

Though I found a good size colony of it at the local college last year I’d still say that Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) is rare here. The single plant I knew before I found this colony had a single small flower. From the photos I had seen I always thought the flowers would be as big as a tradescantia blossom, but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive in this area because I just never see them. I love its colors.

I’m still waiting for our native Canada lilies to start blooming but that doesn’t mean I’m not seeing any lilies. This one was in a public garden and was very beautiful, I thought. I used to grow lots of lilies here but then the lily beetle came to town and that finished that.

None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones. ~Forbes Watson

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It had been about six years since I followed an old class 6 road in Swanzey and something brought it to mind the other day, so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered it being very shaded and since it was a hot, humid day shade was called for. Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town so traveling it could be rough going. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. This one dates from the mid-1800s and if you walked it for maybe 2 days, you would eventually come out on the road to Chesterfield, which is now route 9.

The road follows along a brook which is named California Brook, for reasons I’ve never been able to uncover. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

The forest is made up of young trees, mostly hemlock but some maple and birch as well.

Stone walls tell the story of why the forest is young. This land was all cleared at one time and I’ve read that at least three families lived out here. Most likely in the 1800s. It might have been sheep pasture, which was a common use for this stone filled land.

But the road was very different than it was the last time I was out here, and I wondered who would go to all of the expense of making an old abandoned road useable.

The road had been hardened with 1-inch crushed stone, which is terrible stuff to walk on if it hasn’t been compacted. This hadn’t been compacted so in places it was almost like walking on marbles.

Even the old rotted bridge had been replaced. There is only one reason someone would go to all this trouble and expense to get out here.

And the reason is logging, just as I suspected. It looked like they were taking the softwood and leaving the hardwood to grow. In any event, it certainly wasn’t the first time this land had been logged off and I couldn’t worry about what was being done on someone else’s land.

Colonies of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) grew on both sides of the road and I was happy to see them. They are also called self-heal and have been used medicinally since ancient times. They are said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how the plant got its common name. In fact the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure that heal all brings to man. Seeing them certainly brightens my day. Their happy faces and wide-open mouths always seem to be cheering life on. I can almost hear them shouting yay! As I’ve said before, I think all flowers are happy simply because they’re alive; they exist. All of nature is in a state of ecstasy because it simply is. We could learn a lot from its example.

Hobblebushes have set fruit. The berries will go from green to bright red and then deep, purple black as they grow and ripen. They won’t last long once ripe.

I saw a big, soccer ball size burl on a red maple. It would have been the perfect size to make a bowl out of. They’re valuable to woodworkers because just about anything made from burl is beautiful and commands top dollar. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. That’s the theory, anyhow.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) grew all along the roadside in large numbers. This one still had a raindrop on it.

Coltsfoot also grew in great numbers out here and if I can remember that, next spring I’ll come back and find some of the earliest blooming flowers.

My find of the day was this many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) I saw growing on a log beside the road. It was in its plasmodium stage and was quite big.  When slime molds are in this state, they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are super sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. It was a hot and humid day and this particular spot was very shaded, so it was just right for slime mold activity.

Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. They are fascinating beings that behave like a flock of birds or a school of fish, and science just can’t seem to figure them out.

I was hoping that I might also see some fungi out here but all I saw were these tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius) on a very dead beech. They do like beech trees. I see them more on beech than any other tree. This one was so old its bark was flaking off but the fungi were still able to get what they were after from it. Since woodpeckers had been at it too, I’m sure it was full of insects. Most likely carpenter ants. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer.

The first time I came out here I saw the biggest beaver dam I’ve ever seen. It was high enough to be over my head in height, but the last time I came out here it was gone. I thought that if the dam had let go there had certainly been some serious flooding somewhere, but I’ve never seen any signs of it.  Anyhow, here was another beaver pond. I couldn’t see the dam but they’re at it again.

I should say that I’m not happy with many of the photos that I took with my new cell phone. I went into a phone store hoping they could fix a small issue I was having with an app on my Google Pixel 4A phone and the person behind the counter noticed that I had a 3G sim card in the phone. “You really should have a 5G sim card,” he said. “This is a 5G phone.” To make a long story short the 5G sim card he put in apparently destroyed the Pixel’s ability to connect to the internet, so they had to give me a new phone of “equal or greater value.” Well, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE they gave me as a replacement is indeed of greater value because it cost $200.00 more than I paid for the Pixel, but the Samsung’s camera can’t touch the Pixel’s camera, and for that reason it has little value to me. In my opinion it’s okay for making phone calls, but not much else.

There are ditches alongside the road and since it had rained that morning they had water in them, and they also had northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing beside them. This plant is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. Soon the plants will have tiny white flowers blooming where the leaves meet the stem. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food. I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots. Another name for the plant is northern bugleweed and I almost always find it near water.

I saw lots of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and I ran my hands through it hoping for lucid mugwort dreams, but I can’t remember anything special. Mugwort is supposed to make dreams much more vivid and also increases the chances that the dreamer will rmember their dreams. A year or two ago I ran my hands through it a few times and really did have some wild dreams, so there must be something to it. The plant has mild hallucinogenic properties and is considered a “magic herb.” It has been used by man for thousands of years; the earliest writings regarding it are from 3 BC. in China. It is also one of the herbs recorded in the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the tenth century and by all accounts was and still is considered a very important plant. If you enjoy reading about plants mugwort lore could easily fill an entire book. When you have a spare hour or two just Google “mugwort.”

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) grew in the shadiest places because the big, hand size, light gathering leaves lets it do so. Its common name comes from its fruit, which looks like a raspberry but is about as big as the tip of your thumb. I tasted one once and tasted nothing but there are people who say they’re delicious.

I was happy to see this cave at the side of a still pool in the stream again. From a distance it looks big enough to walk into by ducking a little, but not small enough to have to crawl into. Every time I see it, it calls loudly to the hermit in me, but it also looks big enough to easily hold a bear or two so I haven’t ever dared go near it while out here alone. Maybe if someone was with me to get me back if anything happened, or maybe if I had a rifle and a strong flashlight, but not alone. It’s too bad; I wouldn’t mind spending some time here. It’s an idyllic spot with the stream running just outside the entrance and a mossy bank to lounge on, and a cave to stay dry in. Inside myself I know living here for a while wouldn’t be a hard choice to make but this is known bear country, so I suppose you would always wonder what was going to come through that entrance, and that might be a hard way to live. I’ll just have to live it in a dream, I guess. Maybe a mugwort dream.

I was surprised to see that branch still sticking out of the tree on the right. It has been that way for many years, but when I first came out here the branch was still attached to the tree on the left. I think the tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has partially healed over the offending branch. When I first saw it, I thought that one day it would heal over completely but now I doubt it. It’s an unusual thing to see and this is the only time I’ve seen it happen.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected to everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy 4th!

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It wouldn’t be summer without black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and here they are, right on schedule. I’ve noticed over the past few years though, that they have seemed to bloom earlier each year and what was once July has now become June. Since I’ve always thought of them as a fall flower, their early arrival always comes with mixed feelings. Cheery yes, but let’s not rush into fall, has been my main gripe. At least this year they waited a bit.

This plant was always believed to have been given its common name by English colonists, but that caused a real conundrum among botanists who all agreed that it was a prairie native. Though everyone still agrees that it is a prairie native, recent research has shown that it was growing in Maryland in the 1600s. In other words it was most likely growing in all parts of the country then, just as it does today.

One day probably 40 years ago a kind man who was the director of the MacDowell artist’s colony in Peterborough at the time told me if I could name the plants that made up his hedge, he’d hire me as his gardener. I got the job, and I think of him and that day we stood on his lawn every time I see a purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus.) It is in the rose family and at a glance you might think you were seeing a rose, until you saw the big maple shaped, light gathering leaves that allow it to grow in shade. The 2 inch diameter flowers always look like they need ironing, so that’s another hint that what you’re seeing isn’t a rose

Our native dogwoods are starting to bloom and I think this one is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Gray dogwoods are large shrubs that can get 12-15 feet tall and at least as wide. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Shrub dogwoods can be difficult to identify at times but gray dogwood flowers clusters tend to mound up in the center enough to appear triangular, and other dogwoods have flower clusters that are much flatter. Both gray and red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have white berries. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) has berries that start white, have a period of blue and white, and then finally ripen to blue.

One of my favorite “weeds” is crown vetch (Securigera varia). It is in the pea family and was imported from Europe and Asia for soil erosion control. The long, wiry vines can be found along roadsides and in fields, and I’ve even found it in forest clearings. This plant is toxic and has killed horses, so you might want to watch along roadsides before you let your horse stop for a snack.

Crown vetch is very beautiful, in my opinion. Each flower head looks like a bouquet of orchids. All flowers make me glad I’ve found them but some go beyond that and absorb all that I am for a time, and this is one of those. It’s such a beautiful place to get lost in.

I found knapweed growing near the crown vetch, which seems right considering it was also imported to stop soil erosion on roadsides. That’s where it grew in great numbers, but the plants had just started blooming. I think this is brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) but I could be wrong. The plant is very invasive in some states but this particular colony of plants has been here for years and really hasn’t grown any larger.

Since they grew in a small weed patch in back of our house hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) have been with me my entire life, but not this one. The ones I grew up with were pure white, but now most of those I see are pink and white like this one. It doesn’t really matter what color it is though because these blooms are in my genes. They played a large part in my lifelong love of flowers. I’d watch them open, watch which insects visited them and how they twined around the other plants, and for a while it seemed that I knew them better than I knew myself. That’s why I often call a flower or plant an old friend; because they really are.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) on the other hand, is a plant that I can’t call an old friend because I never saw it until I became a gardener and started working over in Peterborough. Just 20 miles away they had it, but we here in Keene didn’t, or at least I never saw it. It seems to be one of those plants which, like pokeweed,  just kind of snuck in unnoticed but are now everywhere you go. I’m sure if they had been here when I was a boy I would have seen such a pretty flower. I got around, always in a ditch or pond or meadow somewhere, and I was always watching for new plants.

Tall thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) gets its common name from the way its seed head grows into a shape and size that resembles a thimble. It’s a pretty flower that isn’t real common here, but I do see it now and then. They are about and inch across and are easy to miss once the white sepals have fallen off. Eventually they’ll release white cottony seeds to the wind. I’ve read that Native Americans burned the seed heads to revive the unconscious, but I don’t know how true it is. Like all plants in the anemone family it is toxic and can burn the mouth and throat if eaten.

I saw more lupines blooming beautifully on a roadside, along with many other flowers.

A smooth rose (Rosa blanda) grew by a road that ran through a cemetery. It is a native rose with almost thornless stems. It’s very pretty and has a nice fragrance, and I would have liked it in my yard.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant I haven’t seen for probably 40 years or more but I found this one in a public garden recently. It’s a very pretty flower that reminds me of an ox-eye daisy but it is much smaller. According to Mount Sanai hospital “This member of the daisy family has been used for centuries to treat headaches, arthritis, and problems with labor and childbirth. Ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation and treat menstrual cramps. Although it was once used to treat fevers, as its name suggests, it was not very effective. It is now used to prevent migraine headaches, and several scientific studies suggest that it works well for that purpose.” I’m always fascinated by the uses plants have but I’m even more fascinated by how the use was discovered. How do you reach the point where you say well, this plant has a nasty odor and tastes bitter and might kill me, but I have the worst headache I’ve ever had so I’m going to make tea out of it? There are very many plants (and fungi) which could make that cup of tea the last one a person ever had. Did they draw straws? Short straw gets to drink?

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another plant that can cure or kill. Or at least, the compounds in it can. I’ve had the plant in my gardens forever and it has never hurt a fly. It’s all in how you use them, and if you happen to have cardiac arrhythmia, the digoxin made from the plant could save your life. Digitalis  means finger-like and speaks of the shape of the flowers. I’ve read that herbalists used to, back in the 1700s, pick and dry the leaves and then rub them down into a fine green powder, which could then be used in an infusion to treat many ailments. But I wouldn’t play around with doing that, because it is a very toxic plant that has been known to kill. I just watch the colony that I have in the back yard grow each year and enjoy seeing them. Sometimes I even stick my finger in one, just to see if it fits.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is our second native yellow loosestrife to bloom, coming right on the heels of swamp candles. At about a foot tall it isn’t much taller than swamp candles but it is bushier. This plant doesn’t have as much of a need for water as swamp candles but I’ve seen it near water occasionally. Its common name comes from the way its leaves are whorled about the stem, meaning each group of four leaves all radiate about the stem in the same plane. If you picture looking at the edge of a plate while holding it parallel to the floor, that is what you see with whorled leaves. Four small yellow flowers grow out of the four leaf axils. It’s a pretty plant, especially when massed as they often are.

The old orange “ditch lilies” (Hemerocallis fulva) have come into bloom. This daylily is so common I see it everywhere I go, including in roadside ditches, and that’s where the common name comes from. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. Today it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes.

Just after I said that I never saw mock orange (Philadelphus) anymore I saw one on the roadside. This is a very old-fashioned shrub that gets its common name from its wonderful fragrance, which smells like citrus. No yard should be without one in my opinion, but it seems to have fallen out of favor. I have a huge old example that bloomed beautifully but I had to move it and all it has done since is sulked. Normally they are a care free, plant it and forget it kind of shrub that can give many years of pleasure without asking for anything in return.

I’ve wondered for years now whether this campion is a true rose campion or if it is a white campion (Silene latifolia) with a pink blush. I’m fairly certain it is a blushing white campion but I’ve never really known for sure. In either case it’s a pretty flower.

I saw a scabiosa blooming in a local garden, trying to entice insects. It’s a busy but beautiful thing.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is also called creeping thistle, but it is also called cursed thistle, mainly because of its deep and extensive creeping root system. The plant is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold and for that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire but it is on the watch list. Wherever I’ve found them growing, they haven’t spread at all. I think the flowers are pretty, but I’m not the one trying to dig them out of my pasture.

I saw one of the smallest violas I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t have been any bigger than an aspirin, and it had just a blush of blue on it.

These are some roadside flowers that caught my eye. They are all lowly weeds and none is native but if you can put all that aside and just love them for what they are you’ll enjoy the outdoors a lot more.

Finally, because I won’t get another flower post in before the 4th of July, I thought I’d show you some of nature’s fireworks in the form of flowers. The male blossoms of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” I hope everyone will have a safe and happy 4th.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

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It seems that these “looking back” posts get harder every year. Choosing a handful of photos is never easy but this year it seemed daunting at first. But then I sat down and remembered what this blog was all about, which is showing you the beauty of nature. I dangle a carrot and entice you into going out and seeing nature for yourself, and when you do you fall in love with what you see, just as I did. That’s the plan, anyway. So as you look at what I’ve chosen remember that these photos are about the beauty of this world and nothing else. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you might not think the stream ice in the above shot is beautiful at all. Hopefully though, as you wade through this post, you’ll find something that catches your eye. And remember, if I saw it, you can too.

This is more stream ice, this time with leaves trapped in it. This reminded me of putting a leaf between 2 sheets of waxed paper and then ironing the paper so it sealed around the leaf. It’s always slightly fuzzy, never clear like glass.

The first two photos were taken last January. In February I was at the North Pole, or so it seemed when I was looking at this wind sculpted snow. I love to see the designs the wind can make in snow, but it has to be the right kind of snow with the right consistency or it doesn’t seem to work.

This shot, taken later in February, makes me want to say “whew,” because it shows the first sign of warm colors and melting ice after a long white winter. I’ve always believed that once we’ve made it through February winter’s back is broken. Sure, we can get more snow and even cold, but it doesn’t usually last for weeks like it can in January and February.

In early March there was still snow on the ground but the willows burned brightly and this scene reminded me of an impressionist painting. Vincent van Gogh, maybe?

March is when the first flowers appear but I doubt many people notice the beautiful male alder catkins dangling from the bushes like strings of jewels. A catkin is really just a string of flowers and there are probably hundreds of tiny male blossoms in this shot.

April is when things really get going and large willow shrubs full of bright yellow flowers appear at wood edges and out in the fields. They’re a breath of spring that I look forward to each year and their blossoming usually signals the return of red winged blackbirds.

Bloodroot is one of our most beautiful wildflowers which don’t often appear until early May, but last spring they came along in April. I’m not sure how a flower could be more perfect than this. Its simplicity is what makes it so beautiful, I think. It isn’t busy and there’s nothing to deduce or discover; it’s all right there so all you need to do is just admire its beauty. If you happen to find bloodroot growing in the wild you should remember the spot because this plant will come up in the same spot for many years if undisturbed.

May is when I start looking at buds and though there were many to choose from, I chose this velvety soft, pink and orange, striped maple bud. They seem to glow, and seeing a tree full of them is a sight not soon forgotten. This is a smallish tree and common in this region, so the next time you’re walking along a trail in early May, look out for it.

By mid to late May some of our most beautiful wildflowers are just coming into bloom, like the wild columbine seen here. The columbines grow on stone ledges off in the woods where few people ever see them, but some like me consider them very special and make it a point to go to see them each year. They’re quite a rare find; this spot in Westmoreland is the only place I’ve ever found them. It’s a bit of a hike but it isn’t any work at all to go and see them on a beautiful spring day in May when the leaves are just coming out on the trees and the air is full of sunshine and birdsong. In five short months it will be time to take that walk again, and I’m already looking forward to it.

In this area nothing says June like our native blue flag irises. I watch the roadside ditches because that’s where I find a lot of them blooming beautifully in large clumps. I also see them on pond and river edges. They like a lot of water and can sometimes even be found in standing water. They’re a beautiful flower that always says summer to me and you don’t have to hunt for them, because they’re everywhere.

Flowers come fast and furious in June and you can find many newly opened species each day. For this post though, I chose Robin’s plantain, a fleabane that’s considered a lowly weed. It comes up in lawns everywhere but even though it’s a weed, nobody mows it until it’s done blooming. I think this photo shows why. It’s such a beautiful weed.

There are times in the woods when I see something I can hardly believe I’m seeing, and that’s how it was the first time I saw this fringed bog orchid. I know I’ve found something special when all thoughts leave my mind and I just want to be quiet. I know I’m in the presence of something rare and very special, and I imagine that I feel as I would if I were walking into one of the world’s great cathedrals. It’s hard to explain, but you just know that this is a special moment and it deserves all of your attention, and your gratitude as well. You are humbled, I suppose is the best way to explain it, and it happens the same way each July when I go into the swamp where this magnificent orchid grows.

Also in July, this past July at least, because of all the rain, fungi and slime molds began to appear. I learned a lot by paying attention and watching closely this past summer. I saw a huge variety of fungi and slime molds appear that I had never seen before and as far as I can tell it was all on account of the steady rains we had. After two years of drought it was an amazing show of what nature can do under the right conditions.

In August I found the tiny flowers of the field forget-me-not growing in a lawn and that seemed appropriate, because August was the month that I lost a sister to lung cancer. Though nature has shown me that there is a deep well of peace within us all we have to find it before we can drink from it, and it isn’t something that one of us can give to another; each of us has to find it for ourselves. This was the unfortunate truth that I realized there alongside the forget-me-nots in August.

The concentric circles in tiger’s eye fungi also seemed appropriate for August. To me life is like a song, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. When one song ends a new one begins to take its place, and on and on it goes in a never-ending circle, through all of eternity.

In September I saw one of the prettiest displays of mushrooms I’ve seen when I found these Jack O’ lanterns growing on and around this old red maple. There were hundreds of them and they grew in a ring on all sides of the old tree. A day or two later and I would have missed this beautiful display, and that’s a good reason to get into the woods each day if you can.

This shot is a bit ironic with a monarch butterfly on a purple loosestrife because we wish we’d see more of the butterflies and less of the very invasive purple loosestrife. I didn’t count but I saw a fair number of monarchs, mostly in August and September of last year. I wish I knew why there were so many more, and I wonder if the weather had anything to do with it. I wouldn’t think a butterfly would want to be rained on but there were so many flowers blooming because of it.

This shot from October shows what I mean about having so many flowers blooming. This is just a roadside meadow of sorts that I pass each day on my way to and from work. It’s there every year but this past summer was the best I’ve seen it look. Because of this spot I discovered that New England asters like an awful lot of water. Seeing them in such a wet spot made me take note of soil conditions in other places they grew and each one was quite wet, or at least more than just moist.

You certainly receive plenty of hints in September and even in August of summer’s passing but October is when it really hits you. At least, that’s when it hit me one October morning when I stood on the shore of Half Moon Pond and saw how all the trees had colored. It was a beautiful way to end our summer and it went on and on, and again I think that was because of all the rain we had.

Very late October and early November is the time to visit Willard Pond in Hancock if you want to experience all the majesty of a New England hardwood forest in the fall. The oaks and beeches put on what is easily the most beautiful autumn spectacle that I’ve seen. It’s a quiet, peaceful place with well placed benches where you can sit and listen to the calls of loons and enjoy the beauty of the pond and surrounding forest.

I took a hike down a rail trail in November and just before I left, I snapped this shot of a distant hillside. I could see color on the hillside from where I was but it was like a smudge, with no real detail. I was surprised when I looked at the photo and saw that it was a hillside full of oaks. Everyone seemed to like this one so I’ll show it again.

We had our fist snowfall in December, barely an inch here, so I went out and got some photos of it. It was a nuisance storm and we’ve had two or three since, but no real snowstorms. People who have to shovel it are counting their blessings, but people who make money plowing it don’t feel quite so lucky. I think we all need to face the fact that winter has changed. Just over the course of this blog’s 11 years I’ve watched it go from cold and snowy to rather mild on average in comparison. Spring starts earlier and fall lasts longer now.  

It did get cold enough in December for me to get a shot of this frost crystal on my car windshield one morning. Everyone seemed to like seeing it, so here it is again.

And that’s 2021 in New Hampshire in a nutshell. I hope yours was even more beautiful, and I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and happy 2022!

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

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What I call the park asters seem to have had trouble getting going again this year and are quite late, or maybe I’m just impatient. These plants get about a foot and a half tall but are large and mounded and once they get going are covered with blossoms. They’re very pretty and I show them in these flower posts so you can see what a long bloom time they have. They’ll also take a hard frost and keep blooming. I’m sure they could be found in a garden center but I don’t know their name.

Bees and butterflies love them. These plants are often covered with both.

Bumblebees are still very active and I see them all over the flowers you’ll see in this post. This one was loving this sunflower.

I took this shot because I love the colors of goldenrod and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) together. This particular loosestrife was very dark.

And this purple loosestrife, growing just a few feet from the one in the previous photo, was much lighter in color.

The small but abundant blooms of panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) can be found everywhere I go right now. They’re maybe half to a third the size of a New England aster.

And blue wood asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) are even smaller. These were a very pale blue, almost white.

If, before you had indoor plumbing, you wanted to hide the outhouse this is often what you would use for a screen, at least in summer. And that’s how this particular helianthus species got the name of “outhouse daisy.” Another name is the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) but since it isn’t an artichoke and it has nothing to do with Jerusalem, that name makes little sense. Jerusalem artichokes 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. You’d better have plenty of space though. This one had to have been 7 feet tall.

Whatever name you choose to use for it, this is a beautiful late summer / early spring flower.

These New England asters (Symphyotrichum puniceum) surprised me by growing almost in the water at the edge of a pond. Those are cattails behind them. I don’t think of them as water lovers but they do tend to grow in ditches and other places that stay moist.

I was surprised to see the only marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) plant I know of still blooming, but then why not? It’s in the same family as rose of Sharon, another late summer / early fall bloomer. Its flowers are about the diameter of a quarter, or 3/4 of an inch.

Many plants will have a big initial spring or early summer bloom, then they rest and will bloom sporadically again in the fall. Dandelions do it and that’s what I thought tradescantia did as well until I started watching this particular plant, which has bloomed all summer long. Is it all the rain that made it do so, I wonder?

I saw a bee balm I didn’t recognize in a local park. It had a tag that read Monarda Sugar Buzz “Blue Moon.” My color finding software sees “plum” and “medium purple” but for what it’s worth, it looked blue to me. It couldn’t have been more than a foot tall.

Here in the Northeastern U.S. we are big on garden chrysanthemums in the fall and I wonder if people in other countries love them as much as we do. Thought of as a late summer / fall plant, many thousands of them are sold each year and you see them everywhere. Though they are native to Asia and northeastern Europe I never hear much about them being grown in other countries.

Fall mums come in many colors including red. My color finding software tells me this is “Indian red.” Though they are sold as “hardy mums” they are not truly hardy and most of them die in winter, but purple and white ones will often make it through until the following year. Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as early as the 15th century, where its boiled roots were used to treat headaches and its sprouts and petals were eaten in salads.

Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is another “spring plant” that has bloomed all year long. I like its little orchid like flowers. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

I can’t say that this is the last rose of summer but since we’re past our average first frost date of September 25th, it could be.

Here is another bumblebee on a scabiosa blossom.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) was losing its tiny flowers one by one. It seems odd that though this plant is supposed to be a bee and butterfly magnet I’ve never seen a single insect on it. Though they fly all around it and are on surrounding plants they don’t touch it.

The pee gee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is a “panicled” hydrangea, meanings its flower heads are cone shaped rather than round. These plants grow into large shrubs sometimes reaching 10-20 feet tall and nearly as wide. Though originally introduced from Japan in 1862 this plant is thought to be native by many and is a much-loved, old-fashioned favorite. What I like most about this hydrangea is how the flower heads turn a soft pink in the fall. When they’re cut and dried, they’ll hold their color for quite a long time.

This hydrangea is also a panicled variety according to Google lens, but the shape is very different from the example we just saw so I looked it up online. Sure enough there is a panicled hydrangea variety called Quick Fire which was released by Proven Winners, with a photo that looks just like this one. It is said to open white and quickly turn pink. I do like the color but it looked more like a lace cap hydrangea to me.

I saw a huge drift of wildflowers at a local pond recently. They went on like this for many yards.

New Englanders know what witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoming means; winter can’t be far off. Though it usually blooms in cool weather these native plants bloomed on a warm day. I’ve seen them bloom on a warm day in January before but not in September. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down from clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles, and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

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

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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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There is only one place to find bog asters and sneezeweed in this area that I know of, and that is at Meetinghouse Pond in Marlborough, so off I went recently to see what I could find. I was hoping the mower hadn’t beaten me to it.

Luckily, they hadn’t mowed the earthen dam. It’s a relatively small area but what a wealth of flowers grow here. I really had no idea until I started taking photos how many different plants there were. I ended up finding more than enough to fill an entire blog post, all from this small piece of land.

And there were the rare and beautiful little bog asters (Oclemena nemoralis) growing in the shallow water at the pond edge. The fact that they can grow in standing water and have a single white or purple flower at the top of a foot tall stem makes these asters hard to confuse with any other.

Because bog asters usually grow in thickets in wet, swampy areas many people never see them. They grow along the shore of this pond in great numbers but this is the only pond I’ve seen that happen in, so there must be something special about this place. I’ve read that they can stand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees F. Each flower is about half the size of a New England aster. The small, sword shaped leaves have no stems (petioles) and that’s another way to identify them. They grow in the northeastern U.S., west to Michigan’s upper peninsula, and in and parts of Canada in or near cold, acidic ponds and peaty bogs. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the roots of this plant to treat earaches.

Another plant I find growing at pond and river edges is beggar’s ticks (Bidens). They are the small orange flowers seen here and there in this shot. They appear in late July and grow for several weeks before showing 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.

It’s often hard to tell if a beggar’s tick blossom is fully opened but I think this one was more open than any I’ve seen. When I see them I always think of fall.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is another plant that always reminds me of fall. This is one of only three places i’ve ever found this European native in the wild. I always think of it as a daisy with no petals.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are flowers that I’ve always thought of as fall flowers so when they appear in June I can’t say that I’m overjoyed to see them but on this day, they fit right in. That of course, is just an opinion in my mind. They add as much cheer to the landscape in June as they do in September and I should be just as happy to see them then as I am now.

There were two ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) still blooming and this was the best of the two. Most of the petals had been eaten off the other one, by what I don’t know. This is a late time for them to be blooming but I was happy to see them. They always remind me of my wedding day. We didn’t have much money so we picked hundreds of daisies and put some in a vase on each table. They wilted in about 5 minutes and I can still see their sad faces in my mind to this day. Better to leave them in the fields where they belong. They and we will be happier that way.

Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) does well here. It’s in the pea family and grows about a foot tall, and is a common sight along roadsides and waste areas. The plant has 3 leaflets much like clover and was introduced from Europe as livestock feed, but has escaped and is now considered invasive in many areas. It can form large mats that choke out natives but that wasn’t happening here.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) grew here in abundance and was as beautiful as ever.

White daisy fleabane flowers (Erigeron strigosus) can appear pink in the right light, but they were white on this day. I regularly find fleabane growing in sunny spots quite deep in the woods where you wouldn’t expect it to be, but it was getting plenty of sunshine here.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is often used on roadsides to stabilize embankments and control erosion so I wasn’t surprised to find it here on this earthen dam. I think it’s a beautiful flower, even if it is invasive. Some of the other flowers here, like bird’s foor trefoil, are used in the same way.

For the first time I saw the tiny seed pods of rabbit’s-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense.) If you look closely, you can see them at the base of the flower head, poking out of the feathery, grayish- pink sepals. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot. 

Goldenrod grew here of course, in at least three different forms. There was downy goldenrod, slender fragrant goldenrod and this one, which I think is tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) since it was taller than I am.

I’m not sure which aster this was but its 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 (Aster laevis.) Also, the plants grow as a single stalk for part of their height before branching, and that’s another identifying characteristic. Asters can be very tricky to identify though, so I can’t say that I’m positive about it.

And speaking of asters that are tricky to identify, I’ve been trying for years to name this one. At first I thought it was the heath aster but I never really felt super confident about that. I needed an aster with small white flowers that grew on only one side of the stem, and that perfectly fits the description of the small white aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum,) also called the old field aster. Once again, I have to thank the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog for leading me to its name. I do hope everyone who loves nature is reading that blog. It’s one of my favorites and you can find a link to it over there on the right in the favorite links section.

Finding yarrow (Achillea millefolium) here wasn’t a surprise but seeing it look so good this late in the year was. Yarrow often has a second bloom but the flower heads are much smaller than the first bloom, so I think these were still in their first bloom. They might have been mowed as well though, and bloomed later than usual. In any event they looked just as good as they do in June. We humans have used common yarrow in various ways for thousands of years, since before recorded time. Once thought of as sacred, it has even been found in Neanderthal graves.

I always expect to find smartweeds near water and there were a few different species here. The ducks and other waterfowl won’t have any trouble getting onto the dam to pick their seeds.

This pond is the only place I know of to find native sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale.) I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the wild and I don’t know how it got here, but it is always worth the drive to see it. Last year I got here too late and it had been mowed. I wish they’d wait until after a frost to mow so people could enjoy the flowers.

Sneezeweed’s common name comes from its dried leaves being used as snuff. It was inhaled to cause sneezing because sneezing was thought to rid the body of evil spirits, and both men and women used it. The plants have curious winged stems and this is a good way to identify them. It is a poisonous plant and no part of it should be eaten. It also contains compounds that have been shown effective in the treatment of tumors. The Native American Cherokee tribe used the plant medicinally to induce sneezing and as an aid in childbirth.

I was so surprised to find all of these flowers in such a small space. Even the grasses were in full bloom. I think this was Timothy grass but it was so full of flowers I couldn’t tell. I hope they’ll hold off on the mowing so other people can see the rarer flowers like bog asters and sneezeweed. Or at least mow around them. We have an earthen dam where I work so I know what the law says about the importance of keeping them free of brush and trees, but mowing once each year takes care of that. Maybe next time the mower comes he’ll see all the beauty before he mows, and will just sit and enjoy this place instead of cutting. Maybe the lion really could lie down with the lamb, just for a time.

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

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A bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) showed me how a bee’s pollen baskets can be filled with white pollen when it is foraging purple flowers. I’ve never seen so much pollen on a thistle blossom before.

A bee on another blossom showed me how the harvesting is done. The things I’ve learned from nature!

This pretty dark purple sedum grew in a local garden.

A beautiful datura blossom (Datura stramonium) was almost spotless. These blossoms are big; probably three and a half inches across and nearly twice as long. The plant is also called Jimson weed. It is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. There is a bicolor purple and white variety that is very beautiful. If you’ve got the space, it makes quite a statement.

Spiky Datura seedpods are bigger than a ping pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball, if that tells you anything. They are also called thorn apples. Taken in small enough doses Datura 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.

Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) is an unusual member of the family, with its single vertical stalk of flowers. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants.

The bright yellow 1/4-inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) likes the same dry, sandy conditions that downy goldenrod likes and they can often be found growing side by side. They also have the same single stalk growth habit. Silverrod is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over.

As silverrod’s flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

Burdock (Arctium minus) is having a banner year. I’ve never seen so many flowers on these plants and they just keep blooming on and on. I’d say they must like lots of water. If I was ten again what wars I could have with the other neighborhood boys. We used to go home with them stuck all over us sometimes.

Because the sun was behind it, I had to overexpose this sunflower to get a half decent shot of it. Since its the only one I’ve seen this year it’ll have to do.

Another sunflower’s head was so heavy it had broken off and I was first drawn to it and then drawn into it. It is micro worlds like this that have helped me realize that I don’t need to know or to understand a single thing to see that everything is beautiful. Everything on this planet has a beauty of its own. We’re absolutely swimming in it.

I’ve never been that interested in begonias, though some are truly stunning. The frilly yellow centers on these flowers are what caught my eye. Some begonias make great house plants and some of them used to have a place in my indoor jungle. And it was a jungle; I used to half jokingly tell friends to bring a machete when they came over.

Mallow (Malvaceae) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. So far this is the only plant in flower that I’ve seen. It’s a very pretty flower that looks familiar to many people who have never seen it. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon, and I’d guess that’s why mallow looks so familiar.

I was surprised to find this pink spirea blooming in a local garden but it had been sheared, so maybe that’s why it was blooming so late. The bees were certainly happy to see it.

This year for the first time I’ve seen Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) blooming every single month, from March until now. I always thought they were strictly a cool weather plant but apparently not. Maybe lots of rain has more to do with it.

The fisherman you see in this shot saw me taking photos of these flowers and walked around me right into the frame, so hello world, here he is. Not too long after I took this shot, he caught an 8 or 9 inch pickerel in this pond and it proved to me that pickerel weed is indeed named after the pickerel fish, because the fish he caught was hiding in the pickerel weeds just like the legend says they do. That fish had some sharp looking teeth on it and the fisherman had quite a time getting his hook free, otherwise I would have shown you a photo of it. He told me that I had brought him luck.

I’ve watched catchfly (Silene armeria) go from a single plant to what is now a small colony of about 6 or 7 in 5 years or so, so it could hardly be called invasive, even though it is from Europe. It is also called sweet William catchfly and is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty little plant. I like its smooth, bluish green stem and leaves.

Purple loosestrife and goldenrod fought for a place in the sun. I know which will win; this will be a sea of nothing but purple in just a few years’ time.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have appeared so fall is definitely knocking on the door. These lighter colored ones always appear before the dark purple ones that I like so much. This one had what looks like a little hoverfly visiting.

And this one had a much bigger insect visiting. I think it might be a solitary wasp, possibly a potter wasp (Ancistrocerus antilope)?

I found this dark colored aster in a garden. It looked to be just waking up and unfurling its petals. Just as I was finishing this post I saw one of our native asters that was this color, so they’ll be coming along soon.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

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Last Saturday more showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast so I didn’t want to be exploring any mountaintops. Instead I went to Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene, where I knew there would be plenty of interesting things to see.

Beaver Brook itself was high. With hurricane Henri supposed to pay us a visit over the coming days I was hoping to see lower water levels, because we had so much rain through July there simply isn’t anyplace left for the water to go. I met an old timer up here once who said he had seen the water come up over the road years ago, but I’m hoping I never see that. Keene would be in real trouble if this brook got that high now.

NOTE: Henri came and went while I was putting this post together and though there was rain, thankfully there was no serious flooding in this region.  

I thought I might see blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) blooming but no, it’s going to wait a while, apparently. Its stems usually grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, but these had already fallen. Its yellow blooms grow in tufts all along the stem so it’s an unusual goldenrod. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

There are also lots of white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) here. They are fairly common at this time of year but they start blooming in August, so by first frost most of them have already finished.

Lots of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows here too, all along the old road, and most of the plants were blooming heavily. This plant had flowers in pairs, which I don’t usually see.

This one had its legs crossed, and that’s something I’ve never seen before. How strange. It’s as if it wanted to close off the access to its nectar. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

Smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) is one of the most beautiful lichens that I’ve seen and it does well here on the ledges. The beautiful blue / turquoise spore producing apothecia against the golden color of the body (thallus) are very striking. But light has everything to do with it; the way it reflects off the waxy coating on the apothecia are what turns them blue. Come here when the lichen is in the shade and they’ll be a smoky gray.

I don’t visit the lichens and mosses that grow on these ledges quite as freely as I once did, and this is why. This ledge collapsed a couple of years ago but more stone has fallen since. The trees above are being undercut now so they’ll fall one day as well. All along this old road if you look carefully, you’ll see seams of fractured and crumbling soft stone which is usually feldspar, running through the ledge faces. I stay away from them now for the most part. Any fallen stone in this photo is easily big enough to crush a person. It must have been a mighty roar.

One of the best examples of a frost crack I know of is on a golden birch that lives next to the brook here, and I wanted to get a photo of it. Much to my surprise the spot where I used to stand to get photos of it is now in the brook, so I was teetering on the edge when I took this one. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and the cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack. I like this one because of the difference in color between the bark of the tree and the healing crack. It stands out beautifully and if you happen to be trying to explain frost cracks, that’s what you want.

I tried not to look down while I was hanging onto a tree with one arm and taking photos of the frost crack with the other, but since I had the camera out anyway…

While most other maples have dropped their seeds, mountain maple seeds (Acer spicatum) haven’t ripened yet. There are quite a few of these trees here but this is one of only two places I’ve seen them. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum.)

The sky was all sun and clouds and it was beautiful here. The no passing lines still on the abandoned road always seem kind of ironic to me because the only thing passing here now is time. To think my father and I used to drive through here when I was a boy. Of course the trees and undergrowth didn’t come right up to the road edge then though, so it must have seemed a much wider corridor. I can’t really remember much about it. Some people say the road was abandoned when the new Route 9 was built in the 60s and some say it was in the very early 70s but I’ve never been able to get a solid date, even from the highway department.

I was finally able to get both the leaves and flowers of big leaf aster in the same shot. The flower stalks rise about 2 feet above the leaves so you have to know a little about depth of field for a shot like this. I’m noticing more and more that these flowers are purple, when just a few years ago almost all of them I saw were white.

I’m not seeing the number of blackberries that I used to, and what I do see seem smaller now. This one looked more like a black raspberry though the canes I saw certainly were blackberry. In a tangle like this maybe there was a cane or two of black raspberry here. Maybe the birds are getting to the berries before I see them.

The strangest thing I saw here on this day was a bunch of what I think are hoverflies swarming all over a white avens (Geum canadense) flower. According to Wikipedia these small flies are also called flower flies and the adults of many species feed on nectar and pollen. They looked to be going for the anthers, which would mean pollen.

This pretty view reminded me of my father, who loved to fish for brook trout. He tried to get me interested but I cared more about exploring the woods than fishing when I was a boy. I don’t think there were too many father and son fishing trips before he realized that he could fish or he could chase after me, but he couldn’t do both. At least, not at the same time. It worked out though; I got to roam the woods nearer home and he got to fish in peace.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) covered a log. It’s a beautiful fungus that is bright enough to be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture but dries out within a day or two after a rain.

Artist’s conks (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on another log. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on. Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one a long time ago and I still have it. Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across but these were young and not very big.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grew on a rotten birch log that was absolutely saturated with rain water, and that’s just the kind of wet wood environment that they like. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. They can be hard to see so you have to look closely. Sometimes the “lashes” curl inward toward the center as you can see happening on the example to the right of the largest one, so another common name is Molly eye-winker. As fungi go, they are quite small. None of these examples had reached pea size.

From the road these Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) looked bright red to me but when I got closer, I saw they hadn’t ripened yet. That’s part of being colorblind, but it was okay because these berries are what led me to the log with the eyelash fungi on it. They’re so small I never would have seen them from the road.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) weren’t ripe yet either. Once they turn fully red they’ll disappear very quickly, and that’s why you rarely see ripe ones on this blog. I’ve heard they taste like treacle but I’ve never tried them. Actually I’ve never tasted treacle either, which in this country is called blackstrap molasses.

The place that gets the most sunlight here is the clear space over the road, so of course all the trees and plants lean toward that light. It doesn’t help that they also grow on hillsides as well along much of the roadway. That’s why I see fallen trees almost every time I come here. They often fall on the electric lines that you might have seen in some of these photos.

I finally made it to Beaver Brook Falls but all I can give you is a side view because I didn’t dare climb down the steep, slippery embankment. I say “finally” made it because, though the walk to the falls from the start of the trail is just 7 tenths of mile it usually takes me two hours or more, and that’s because there is so much nature packed into what is really a relatively small space. For someone who likes to study and truly learn from nature, it doesn’t get any better than this amazing place.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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