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Posts Tagged ‘Summersweet’

Asters have been blooming for a couple of weeks now but this is the first purple one I’ve seen, blooming just two days ago at the height of the eclipse. I think it’s a purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) because of its smallish one inch flowers, reddish purple stems and long narrow leaves that clasp the stem. Purple stemmed asters like moist places and this one was growing at the edge of a pond. Native Americans had a word for asters which meant It-Brings-the-Fall. They used the plant to relieve coughs and treat breathing difficulties.

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

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

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. The roots became an important food source and they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on colonial lands. And we wonder why they were upset with the settlers.

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

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

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.

There are many different tall yellow flowers blooming now and most are Helianthus species. I think this one is a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus.) 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.

I probably see one orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) plant for every thousand yellow hawkweed plants. Orange hawkweed is native to the alpine regions of Europe, so apparently it likes high places. Maybe that’s why I never see it. I’d like to see more of it; orange is a hard color to find among our wildflowers.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I found this plant growing in a splash of sunshine near a pond. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has a very different growth habit.

Panicled hawkweed has smooth, hairless leaves and prefers dry forests. This is one of very few hairless hawkweeds. Another common name is Allegheny hawkweed. It is in the aster family and just the kind of flower that we would expect to see on a member of the hawkweed family.

Turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) are blooming early in some places. The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them.

I don’t think this waspish visitor cared one way or another what the turtlehead flowers looked like. As I watched it crawled all the way into the blossom and then back out again several times. There will be turtlehead seeds this year.

Some of the most beautiful flower photos I’ve seen have been of huge fields of lavender, but those were on lavender plants while the lavender colored flowers in the above photo are on purple loosestrife. This is one of the most aggressive invasive plants I know of. This photo shows why the plant is so unpopular here; it grows in monocultures and chokes out all native plants. It originally came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere.

I can remember when the view in the previous photo looked much like this, but purple loosestrife took over the entire area. Now it’s the predominant flower in this photo as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant.

The small, one inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata.) Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower spikes. The blossoms start at the base of each spike and work their way up to the top, so when they’ve reached the top you know they’re done for the season. I always find vervain growing near water in full sun. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. ~Henry Beston

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1. New England Aster

It wouldn’t be fall in New England without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) but this one seems to be rushing things just a bit. I didn’t see its little hoverfly friend until I looked at the photo.

2. Turtlehead (2)

White turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is another plant that says fall but it isn’t as noticeable as New England asters. It likes wet feet and doesn’t mind shade and the example in this photo was growing in dark, swampy woods that had been flooded not too long before the photo was taken.

On the other hand, many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her pink turtlehead plant (Chelone oblique) and it grows in a shady spot in my garden that stays moist, but isn’t particularly wet. In my opinion you couldn’t ask for a plant that required less maintenance. I haven’t touched it since I planted it.

3. Summersweet Shrub

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is 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.  Bees love it too, and this one was covered with them.

 4. lady's Thumb

Lady’s thumb (Polygonum Persicaria  or Persicaria maculosa) gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed. It likes to grow near water and is usually found along pond and stream banks.

5. Boneset

At a glance boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here.

6. Dewdrop

I was happy to find another spot much closer to home where dewdrops (Rubus dalibarda) grow. I used to have to drive for 45 minutes to see them but now it’s down to about 20. This plant likes to grow in shady woods and seems to need undisturbed soil to thrive. Each spot I have found it in hasn’t been touched by man for a very long time, if at all. It is also called false violet because of the leaf shape.

7. Wild Mint

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that this plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories.

8. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) a shy acting little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

 9. Slender Gerardia

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the leaves. The blossom in this photo was just about ready to call it a day and fall off the plant, so it isn’t in its prime.

 10. Silverrod

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only native white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast. I always find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods at the end of August. Silverrod isn’t seen anywhere near as often as the yellow goldenrods.

 11. Partridge Pea

To me the most interesting thing about partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) is how its leaves fold together when they are touched, much like the tropical mimosa, called “sensitive plant.” Its yellow flowers have a splash of red and both bees and butterflies visit them. The common name comes from the way game birds like partridges like to eat its seeds.

 12. Pilewort aka Erechtites hieracifolia

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

13. Pilewort aka Erechtites hieracifolia Open Flower

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. Once they go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

 14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Last year each little rosette of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) leaves sent up a flower spike but this year I’ve seen only one. It doesn’t matter though, because plants often rest after a bountiful year and its leaves are my favorite part of this native orchid. They are evergreen and each one will last about four years. You can tell that each plant is very small by comparing their size to the curled beech leaf on the right.

15. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid

Each white flower on the downy rattlesnake plantain is no bigger than a pea. The pubescens part of the scientific name means downy or hairy, and all parts of the plant above the leaves fit that description. Even the flowers are hairy. It is thought that a small bee called Augochlorella striata might pollinate them. Though it might not win any prizes at flower shows this little orchid is always a real pleasure to find in the woods.

Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? –  Sophie Scholl

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