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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Wildflowers’

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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If you happen to see something like this on a vine that is climbing over nearby plants you might want to take a closer look because they are groundnut flowers, one of our most unusual and pretty wildflowers. The outside of the flowers seen here always remind me of tiny Conquistador helmets.

The chocolaty brown insides of the groundnut flowers (Apios Americana) are very pretty. They are borne on a vine that winds its way among other sunny meadow plants and shrubs like blueberry or dogwood. This plant is also called potato bean because of the walnut sized, edible tubers that grow along its underground stem. They are said to taste like turnips and were a favorite of Native Americans. Henry David Thoreau thought they had a nutty flavor.

This year I was able to watch how these flowers work, and I noticed that the two maroon colored “wings” start out tucked up inside the “helmet” (standard) and slowly, over a few days, they unfurl into the position we see here. They are landing pads for visiting insects and they, along with black angular lines inside the flower, direct the insect to the prize inside. These flowers must be loaded with nectar, because I’ve seen maroon “teardrops” of nectar on their outside surfaces. Groundnuts are legumes in the pea/ bean family and this one was taken across the Atlantic very soon after Europeans arrived. It was listed as a garden crop in Europe in 1885.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has quite a long blooming season but I’m seeing fewer flowers each week so I think they’re nearing the end of their run. I’ll miss seeing them swaying in the breeze, especially in the morning when they sparkle with dew.

So where have all the Shasta daisies been hiding this year? Here it is August and these are the first I’ve seen. I’m guessing two years of drought have slowed them down a bit but here they are, back with the rains. I’ve always liked their brilliant white flowers. White and gray are important in gardens with a lot of color in them, because they allow the eye to rest a bit between colors. I always tried to have white, gray and/ or silver in any garden I built, especially perennial borders.

Centaurea is sometimes called basket flower or cornflower but it’s still a knapweed used in a garden setting. I’ve always liked it.

I showed this flower in a recent flower post and called it a rudbeckia, but someone wrote in and thought it was a Gaillardia. I planted some Gaillardia for a customer probably 40 years ago and they were disappointing, so I haven’t ever used them since and really don’t know them well. Since I couldn’t say for sure that it wasn’t a gaillardia I searched for its name and found that it is indeed a rudbeckia like its leaves told me it was. It is called Rudbeckia hirta, “Sonora.” Essentially a hybridized black eyed Susan.

I saw a colorful daylily that seems to be gaining in popularity, if I go by how many different gardens I’ve seen it in.

All the little heal all plants are still shouting yay! Do you hear them? Yay! How can you not feel joy in your heart when you see something like this? Heal all has been used medicinally since ancient times and the plants were once thought to be a holy herb sent by God to cure man’s ills. Or maybe they were sent simply to bring happiness. Maybe happiness is a large part of the cure.

I was surprised to find some beautiful little Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) still blossoming. I usually see them in July and they never seem to have a very long blooming period but you can occasionally find them still blooming in September. Though they originally came from Europe they can hardly be called invasive. I find them blooming in tall grasses usually in threes and fours.

This common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) plant grows in a wet ditch behind a shopping center. They usually grow just offshore in ponds but I didn’t see a single one blooming in a pond this year. This plant is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. The pretty, clear white flowers are about an inch across.

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small but pretty, and unusual. Like the groundnut that started this post this plant is a legume in the pea/ bean family. Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds.

As usual I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do. They’re such an odd shape sometimes it’s hard to know which way is up. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good at tripping up hikers.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July but it is another flower that seems late to me this year. This is the first one I’ve seen that could be said to be in full bloom and it’s now almost September. This is a good plant for gardens because monarch butterflies love these flowers.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it, I just look for the inflated seedpods.

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

I found this beautiful white phlox blooming in a local garden. Tall garden phlox is often very fragrant but I couldn’t smell any scent from this one at all.

Even though they are everywhere I go I’ve had to search all summer for a queen Anne’s lace flower head (Daucus carota) with a tiny purple flower in the center, and I finally found one recently. They aren’t usually so hard to find.

Legend says the tiny purplish / reddish flower at the center of the flower head is a drop of blood shed when Queen Anne pricked herself while making the lace. A more believable story says that it helps attract pollinators, but the truth is scientists don’t really know why it’s there. I’ve seen lots of insects go to them but then turn away as if there was nothing of interest there for them. These flowers are so small I can’t think of anything to compare them to. A tick, maybe? I’ve never seen one with white specks on it like this one had. I assume they must be pollen from the white flowers.

For years now I’ve found one or two Asiatic dayflowers (Commelina communis) in a local park but that bed has now been dug up, so I was happy to find a large colony of this pretty little flower at the local college. It’s supposed to be highly invasive but it really doesn’t fit that description in this immediate area.

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) gets its common name from the way it will stay in position for a while after the stems are bent. Individual flowers will do the same. Though it is native to central and southern U.S.  it’s a very aggressive plant and can take over a garden if it isn’t kept under control. Flowers can be white, pink, or purple and there are cultivars available. An particularly unusual thing about this plant is how I can’t find any reference to it being used by Native Americans, medicinally or otherwise. I think I can only say that about two or three plants, after years of searching to see what uses plants had.

I found willowleaf angelonia (Angelonia salicariifolia) growing in a local garden and had no idea what it was at the time. After some digging, I found that it is a perennial native to Puerto Rico and grows year-round there. The plant is covered with sticky hairs and has spikes (racemes) of small, pretty 5 lobed flowers that come in a few different colors including pure white. Another name for it is granny’s bonnets. This is a hard plant to find any good information on but it would be worth searching for. It’s about a foot or so tall and in my opinion is very pretty. Because of the location I found it in I would guess that it wants plenty of sunlight.

Here is this week’s look at our late summer roadside flowers. No New England asters yet but there is boneset, Joe Pye weed, Goldenrod and purple loosestrife here. They made a beautiful scene, I thought.

I’m going to leave you with two quotes today from two men born more than 60 years apart; one a physicist, the other a naturalist, each saying the same thing.

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star. ~Paul A.M. Dirac

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. ~John Muir

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

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

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

The trail starts with granite bedrock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our most beautiful time of year is almost here, when there are scenes like this just about everywhere you look. It’s much like living inside an impressionistic painting for a while until the hillside forests break into the full, blazing glory of fall.

Our late summer asters keep coming and the tall white aster (Doellingeria umbellata) is one of the most common and easily seen due to its 3-4-foot height. Large, mostly flat-topped flower heads give it another common name of flat-topped aster. They sway in the breeze and are usually covered with bees.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seemed a little late this year but when I say that about a flower, I often find that it’s me who is expecting to see them earlier than they want to appear. In fact if I look back year to year on this blog, I find that most flowers are fairly consistent in their bloom times and jewelweed is no exception. It usually blooms in early to mid-August so it’s right on schedule.  

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies pollinate these little flowers. You need a long tongue to reach all the way into that curved nectar spur but I watched an ant trying to come up with a way to get at that sweetness one day. Jewelweed 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.

I think most people who read this blog know this, but for those who don’t; these are the jewels that give jewelweed its name. Raindrops sparkle like diamonds on the wax coated leaf surfaces. When you come upon a large colony of them after a rain it can be a very beautiful thing.

Since I’m seeing seedpods forming on our beautiful little eastern forked blue curl plants (Trichostema dichotomum) I’m going to say that it’s time we said goodbye, even though in a good year they might bloom through September. If so, it’ll be a bonus. When a heavy enough insect lands on that spotted lower lip those curved anthers, each carrying several white pollen grains smaller than grains of salt, will dip down and dust the insect with pollen. It’s another miraculous event in a world filled with them.

I found some low growing, potato like plants with lots of leaves and just a few small white flowers. It was obvious by the flowers that it is in the nightshade family but that’s about as far as I got. I think it might be the European invasive black nightshade (Solanum nigrum.) Solanum nigrum has been recorded in deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras of ancient Britain, so it has been around for a very long time. It was used medicinally as mankind grew and learned and was even mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

Do you see that tiny white flower to the right of center in this shot? All those leaves and one tiny flower? Clearly this plant doesn’t seem that interested in seed production.

But it does produce fruit, and these black berries are what leads me to believe it is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country so I doubt this is that plant. There is another that I’ve read about called Solanum L. section Solanum which is nearly hairless but otherwise has the same features. And then there is still another plant called eastern black nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum) but there seems to be much confusion over which plant is which. Though they have been used medicinally for thousands of years Solanum berries contain powerful alkaloids. They are considered toxic and have killed children who have eaten the unripe green berries. A few people do eat the ripe black berries but I think I’ll pass.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this plant as Eastern black nightshade (Solanum emulans,) so I can stop wondering about that. Thanks Sara!

Many of the plants in this post are not native and are considered invasive in many instances but only a few like purple loosestrife are truly pests in this region. In a large percentage of cases these plants were brought here because their flowers were beautiful and I can see that beauty, so I can understand the why of it. Many plants were also used medicinally and people went to a lot of trouble to get them here. Imagine bringing plants over on a wooden ship where extra deck space was nearly nonexistent. You’d have to present a very convincing argument I think, though in the case of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare,) which is pictured above and which has a long history of being used as an insect repellant, the ship’s captain might have been a little more understanding. Recent research shows that tansy repels ticks, moths, and other insects, so it might have gotten a free pass on deck space. And of course it might have arrived in the form of seed.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a plant I don’t have any memories attached to because before a year or so ago I never saw it growing here. Then all of the sudden there it was, and now I see it regularly. It’s a pretty little plant that Native Americans used to treat sores and rheumatism, and they also smoked it to treat colds, and as a tobacco substitute. What I see far more of is sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium,) and they used that plant in much the same way. The name everlasting comes from the way the dried flowers will last for years in a dry vase. I keep forgetting to check these flowers for scent but the flowers of sweet everlasting smell like maple syrup.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is another “invasive” that most pay little attention to in this part of the world, but I’ve heard that it can be a real pest in pastures. It was introduced from Europe as a garden ornamental and, as the old familiar story goes, has escaped and is now considered a noxious weed. A single hawkweed flower head can produce between 12 and 50 tiny black seeds, so when you do the math, it is obvious that these plants are here to stay. They are said to be much harder to control than dandelions. Though it’s easy to find many reasons to hate such a plant, we don’t have many orange wildflowers in this part of the country and I enjoy seeing it.

False dandelions (Hypochoeris radicata) are another imported plant but unlike orange hawkweed I see these plants almost everywhere I go at this time of year. If you look at the yellow flowers on tall wiry stems without paying attention to the foliage this plant might look like yellow hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like narrow dandelion leaves. Yellow hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Both dandelions and false dandelions have a rosette of edible leaves and a central taproot. The flower stems of false dandelion are solid, tall and wiry while those of true dandelions are hollow and much shorter. Another name for this plant is cats ear.

Native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles. Both names refer to the twisted, feathery seed heads. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a toxic plant that can cause internal bleeding so you have to know what you’re doing to use it.

Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy and I can say that it is that. Its small white but pretty flowers are another reminder that fall is near. Clusters of them often cover the entire plant. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is another white flowered vine that drapes itself over the tops of shrubs to get more sunlight. It climbs using tendrils like a grape vine, unlike virgins’ bower which climbs by curling its leaf stems (petioles) around whatever it is climbing. Both strategies work well and each vine gets plenty of sunlight. You’ll note that the leaves on wild cucumber are two or three times as big as those on virgin’s bower though, and that’s because this vine prefers partial shade over full sunlight.  

The flower spikes (Racemes) on wild cucumber grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

If you’d like a native shrub that will attract pollinating insects clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is a very good choice. It’s also called summersweet because of its sweet fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Insects love it and this one was covered with just about every one that I could name.

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summersweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush; whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns.

The flowers of blue vervain (Verbena hastata) bloom from the bottom of the flower head up, so you can tell how much longer they’ll be blooming. Sometimes a stray plant will make it to first frost but usually not. This is a plant that doesn’t mind wet feet and that’s a good thing because the field that it grew in was flooded by all the rain. I couldn’t get near it so I had to use a lot of zoom for this shot. I love the color of the flowers so I was happy to see so many on this plant.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) has just about reached the end of its flowering season I thought, when I noticed the third of an inch, brown winged fruits forming. Each mature fruit has a loose skin covering a rather large starchy seed. Native Americans snacked on the raw seeds or roasted them and ground them into flower. They’re said to be quite tasty but you have to be quick, because they’re a favorite of waterfowl.

There are far fewer fragrant white waterlilies in this pond than last time I was here and that tells me that they’re nearing the end of their time with us for this year. They’re very beautiful and I’ll be sorry to not be able to visit them for a few moths. To sit with them is to learn; they ask for nothing but have everything.

He is richest who is content with the least, for contentment is the wealth of nature. ~Socrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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