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Posts Tagged ‘Sunflower’

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has just started to bloom and this is the first one I’ve seen, even though in the past they’ve bloomed in June. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this European plant according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

Though I’ve seen sales signs that read “Bee bomb” the correct common name of this plant is Bee balm because of the way the juice from the crushed leaves is said to sooth a bee sting, but since that’s something I haven’t tried I can’t say if it works one way or the other. I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but bee balm blossoms usually stand high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

Pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) gets its common name from not surprisingly,  its small pale flowers. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because it can kill.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the bases of the 5 petals are fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers but I haven’t seen any yet this year. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it.

Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a beautiful little flower that I hadn’t seen until last year. Originally from Europe it has been grown in gardens here in the U.S. since the 1700s. Of course it has escaped gardens and now can be found along roadsides and in waste areas. I found these plants growing along a small stream and I was surprised that I had never seen them before. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall, so maybe they’re young plants. It is also called wild sweet pea, everlasting pea, and hardy sweet pea. The pods and seeds are toxic though, and shouldn’t be eaten.

For sheer size I think Canada lilies are the biggest single blossoms of any plant you’ll find on this blog. Each blossom is 2 to 3 inches across and is about the same length. They can grow to eight feet tall and a stalk full of the nodding flowers towering over my head always reminds me of a chandelier. They are also called meadow lilies and that’s where I find them. They also come in red and orange, but all I ever see here are the yellow ones.

Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers, which darken with age. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans; the scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor. I’ve always heard that lily bulbs were poisonous though, so I’d want to speak to an expert before I ate any.

Sumacs are blooming everywhere you look. I love their feathery, palm tree appearance. This was a drive by photo and I was too lazy to get out and see which sumac they were. We have 4 species here that I know of, smooth, staghorn, poison and shiny.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It’s hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it. Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Seeing black eyed Susans reminds me that summer will end all too soon. This plant will always be a fall flower to me, probably because they have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. At least this year they waited until July to bloom; I often see them in June.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves, and many of the graves on my father’s side have them growing near so it is one of the few flowers that make me think of him. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

This plant was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents.

Last year I saw a beautiful flower on the roadside. A closer look told me it was a campanula and after some research I thought that it might be a clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata,) which is a garden escapee. It is said to be a “vigorous rhizomatous perennial” originally from Europe and Japan. This year I found this example in the garden of friends, who said it did indeed want to spread everywhere. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be like the highly invasive creeping bellflower.

A glance at this Queen Anne’s lace flower head might not seem different than any other but the barely visible purple thing in the center is actually a tiny, infertile flower that’s less than half the size of a pea. Not all plants have these central florets that can be purple, pink, or sometimes blood red. From what I’ve seen in this area it seems that as many plants have it as those that do not.

I’ve seen insects including ants around the tiny floret in the center of the flowerhead. I’ve heard many theories of why this flower grows the way it does but the bottom line is that botanists don’t really know why.  It seems to serve no useful purpose, but it might have at one time. Plants don’t usually do things needlessly because it uses up precious energy, and I’d guess that would include evolving. Just because we haven’t discovered its purpose doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one.

Shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) still blooms prolifically. How this plant got from Mexico to New Hampshire is anyone’s guess, but it seems to love it here. People however, do not love seeing it; everyone agrees that it’s a weed, even in its native Mexico. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices. Shaggy soldier has tiny flowers that are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around tiny yellow center disc florets. They are among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph.

Until recently I’ve always been too late or too busy to get a photo of white avens (Geum canadense.) I know of only one place where it grows and thimbleweed also grows there. With its bigger, showier flowers thimbleweed has always stolen the show and I’ve forgotten about white avens. Each flowers is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

You know high summer is near when our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) start blooming. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. It hasn’t beat the heat by much this year and I’ve already seen brown flowers. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

Garden yarrows come in different shades of pinks and yellows but I’ve never been able to decide what I think of the plant breeder’s work on this one. Every time I see one I feel like I’m fence sitting. What makes me happiest about them is how they don’t seem to care about spreading into the surrounding countryside or cross breeding with the native yarrow. I’d rather not see either one happen.

There was a time when nearly everyone I worked for as a gardener wanted yellow yarrow in their gardens but now I hardly see it. I found this one in a local park.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue. Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

I found privet (Ligustrum vulgare) growing by a local pond. It’s in the same family (Oleaceae) as lilacs and that should come as no surprise when you look closely at the small flower heads. Privet is a quick growing shrub commonly planted in rows and used as hedging because they respond so well to shearing. Originally from Europe and Asia it is considered invasive in some areas but I don’t see many in the wild. It has been used by mankind as a privacy screen for a very long time; Pliny the Elder knew it well. Its flexible twigs were once used for binding and the name Ligustrum comes from the Latin ligare, which means “to tie.”

This is how I saw the sun shine one recent showery day. We’re in a hot humid spell now with showers possible almost any day. This kind of weather could last into September when it usually cools down. Then the fall rains will begin (hopefully) and will ensure that the trees have nice moist soil going into winter. I can’t believe I just typed that word!

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

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In my last flower post I ended with a stand of wildflowers that I drive by each morning on my way to work. I didn’t think that photo showed all of the beauty there was to see there so I went back and took more photos. This is one of them.

And this is a wider view. How lucky I am to see this each morning. I think about how, if they stopped mowing the roadsides, they might all look like this. I don’t know why they can’t wait until the flowers are finished blooming to mow certain areas. Some states actually spend a lot of time and money trying to get their roadsides looking like what happens here naturally.

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. It is plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

Finding one or two forsythia blossoms in fall isn’t that unusual but if I saw a bush full of them I’d be concerned. This shrub had exactly one over anxious blossom on it, so it should still bloom in spring like it usually does. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is still blooming, I was happy to see. Orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies which really aren’t wildflowers, and orange jewelweed, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

This New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) had a lot of red in its purple and leaned toward a rose color. My color finding software sees violet, plum, and orchid.

Though it is nearing the end of September I wasn’t surprised to see silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) blossoming. Sometimes the shrub can have ripe fruit on it and still grow a flower cluster or two in a fall re-bloom. These bushes are big; many are 10 feet across. Silky dogwood is named for the soft, downy hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans used dogwood branches to make fish traps and twisted the bark into rope.

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. I thought I’d show a blossom on a penny so you could see just how small they are. 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. The plant 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.

A plant I’ve never noticed before is this nightshade, which I think is black nightshade. There is an American black nightshade (Solanum americanum) but it is native only to the southwest of the country, so I’d say this example 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.

But is this plant Solanum nigrum? It doesn’t look hairy enough to me but it does have pea size green berries that I’ve read should turn black. 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.

The swept back petals and bright yellow centers remind me of another nightshade I regularly see called bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) Its flowers are blue and yellow rather than white and yellow but they look much the same otherwise. If this plant reminds you of a potato plant, that’s because they’re in the same family.

According to an article on National Public Radio scientists have found that once sunflowers mature they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) bloomed in a field that has been mowed all summer long.  This plant stood about three inches tall but it was still blooming as if it hadn’t been touched. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba,) is a plant in the aster family that blooms as late as asters do. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite. William Byrd of Virginia wrote in 1728 that “the rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, in-so-much that if you smear your hand with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely.” I hope nobody actually tried that. This plant is not toxic, at least not enough to kill; the Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of it in a tea that they used to relieve pain.

This cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. The small oval burs aren’t quite as sticky as burdock burs but they will catch on clothing. Cocklebur leaves require long nights to trigger production of the chemicals needed to produce flowers, so they are considered “short day” plants. Their leaves are so sensitive that any light shining on them at night can keep the plant from flowering.

Cockleburs grow male flowers along its upper half, and female flowers grow in the lower half but I’m never early enough to catch them. All I ever see are the burs.

I can’t explain these white squiggly things appearing from the cocklebur fruit. The plant is here in a flower post because I thought they might be flowers but good information on this plant is very hard to find, so I’m not sure what they are. The seeds in cocklebur pods were eaten raw or cooked by Native Americans and among certain tribes in the Southwest the seeds were ground with squash and corn and applied externally to heal puncture wounds.

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful dark blue veins.

I liked this zinnia I found in a friend’s garden recently. These flowers are usually butterfly magnets but I didn’t see any this day.

This roadside view of asters is quite different from the first two photos in this post. It’s more pastel and subdued and has a different kind of beauty than those views I started out with, but I like them all.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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Lush is the word to use here right now because there has been an explosion of growth due to all the hot weather and rain. Some lawns have to be mown twice each week and both flowers and fungi are competing for my attention.

As you can probably tell from the previous photo, we don’t have much sunshine available right now. But we do have sunflowers.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is having a good year, probably because of all the rain. I learned last year that monarch butterflies love these flowers but, though I’ve seen a few monarchs, I haven’t seen one on this or any other flower. I’ve only seen them near damp spots in the sand of gravel roads. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name.

Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) is shorter and more branched than some other knapweeds, and is generally short lived. It looks like spotted knapweed but there are differences.

The way to identify knapweeds is by their basket like bracts, which are hidden by the flower unless you look from the side. Diffuse knapweed bracts end in a sharp terminal spine which is about a quarter inch long and from what I’ve read spotted knapweed does not have this spine. Below that are 4 or 5 pairs of lateral spines to each side of the top part of the bract. These curve slightly, and give the overall look of a crab or tick. All of the spines are sharp enough to puncture skin. The brownish black tip of the bract is common to both diffuse and spotted knapweed, so at a glance they look the same. Flowers can be white, purple or a combination of both. Knapweeds are invasive and can quickly overtake pasture land. If I’ve identified this plant correctly it has crossed the Massachusetts / New Hampshire border, which is supposed to be the northern part of its range in New England.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. Even after they open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

This is just about all you get when you look at a pilewort blossom. The common name comes from the way they resemble suppositories. At one time that fact made people believe that they would be a good cure for hemorrhoids (piles.)

These wasps (?) must love pilewort because they were swarming all over it.

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.

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a pretty flowered plant that was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to live in dry places that get full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom, so I was surprised to see it. It is an invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It will choke out weaker native plants and seems to love colonizing gardens when it is left alone. I usually find it on forest edges, rarely in large colonies.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) just started blooming and won’t be finished until we have a freeze. I try to remember to crush a few blossoms and smell them, because they smell like maple syrup. The plant’s common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as these examples show. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually open but you can see a hint of yellow on a couple of these.

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

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

I saw these pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) blooming in a local garden and that’s all I’ve seen of turtleheads this year. Both the native white flowered plant and the pink flowered plant in my garden don’t seem to want to bloom and I’m not sure why. I don’t know the origin of the garden variety pink turtlehead and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar, but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

I saw this cosmos in another roadside garden and thought it was quite pretty. I’ve never seen another like it but I suppose they’ve probably changed a lot since I used to grow them. Cosmos is the Greek word for harmony or ordered universe. Spanish priests in Mexico named the plants cosmos because of their (usually) evenly spaced, orderly petals. This one opted for chaos, apparently.

I thought these daylilies (Hemerocallis) seen in a friend’s garden were very beautiful.

I’ve been trying to rid my gardens of obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) for several years and, though there are no large colonies of it left, small groups of two or three plants will still appear. They are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed the plants out of just about everywhere.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

In my travels I found no answers, only wonders. ~Marty Rubin

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Though this pond side view looks like we still have plenty of flowers blooming here in New Hampshire, they are getting harder to find now that we’ve gone into fall. In this view the off white flowers are boneset, nearly gone by, so the only flowers truly blooming are purple asters and goldenrod. There are still other flowers still blooming out there but at this time of year you have to search to find them.

I found a huge mounded colony of this white aster in an old field. Asters can be very hard to identify but I think it might be the small white American aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) because of the way its lance shaped leaves are sessile on the stem. In this case sessile means leaves without a stalk (petiole.)

At about a half inch across the flowers on the small white American aster aren’t as small as some of the other white asters. For an aster the petals are arranged very symmetrically. There is a similar aster called bushy American aster that has blue flowers.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in what is almost October. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

Another of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis.) My color finding software sees both blue and purple in these blooms but colorblindness turns them all blue for me. I walked along the Ashuelot River to the spot where they grow and, though I thought they were finished for this year, there were one or two still holding onto their color. When they start to go by they turn very dark blue and then a kind of purple.

I took this photo of a bottle gentian so those of you who have never seen one would know what to look for. The flowers and growth habit look much like those on a narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) but that plant has narrower leaves.

Black eyed Susans are another flower with a long bloom time but they’re getting sparse now and you have to search to find them in this area. Though they start blooming in June I always think of them as a fall flower, so when I see them in June I always have to ask them do you have to remind me so soon? Summer just started! I forgive them for trying to make time pass so quickly though because they’re so cheery, even in June.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

Johnny jump up (Viola tricolor) is still blooming. It is plant that has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn. I always make sure I miss them with the lawn mower.

I saw this pretty bi-color phlox in a friend’s garden. Many phlox blossoms are very fragrant but I forgot to smell this one. What would a fall garden be without a phlox or two? They’re so beautiful, it’s hard not to love them.


I saw this view of deep purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and goldenrods along a roadside recently. In the past I’ve complained that there weren’t enough of these dark purple asters but this year I’m seeing them everywhere I go. I’ve noticed that bees seem to prefer the lighter colored ones but these still had hundreds of bees all over them. In fact every aster plant I’ve seen this year has been just swarming with bees of all kinds.

This is a close up of the same flowers that are in the previous photo, but the bright sunshine lightened their color.

I’ve never seen an aster with so many blooms on it. I don’t know its name but this is a cultivated aster that grows in a local park. It’s a very beautiful thing, and quite big.

At a glance this might look like an aster but it’s actually a chrysanthemum blossom. Mums are big business here and at this time of year nurseries sell them as fast as they get them. Though they are called “hardy mums” there are few that can really make it through a New Hampshire winter. I have a purple one that has come up for years and many of the white ones will survive. I used to work at a nursery that grew mums from cuttings; ten thousand of them each year, and I’ll never forget having to water them. It took all day, and I had to do it every day that it didn’t rain. I was very happy when they sold.

You might think I had found a blue lily but no, this is a hosta blossom. They’re very pretty things but hostas are grown more for their foliage than the flowers. This plant was in a local park and had hundreds of blossoms on it.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) won’t be finished blooming until we have a freeze but it doesn’t start blooming as early as black eyed Susans and others do. If you crush a few blossoms and smell them they smell like maple syrup, and that helps identify the plant. Its common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers, as this example shows. An odd name for it is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

It’s hard to tell when a sweet everlasting blossom is actually fully open, but this is what the seed pods look like after the seeds have been released. It’s as pretty as a flower.

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is originally from Europe and was brought to this country by English colonials, who used it medicinally and agriculturally. It is a very beautiful thing that often glows with its own inner light, and I have to stop and admire it every now and then. Had I been an early settler I surely would have had a few of its seeds in my pocket. There are a lot of clover plants by the Ashuelot River in Swanzey and in the evening the cottontails come out to eat them. I’ve noticed that when they’re done eating the non-native red clover they go and hide in a thicket of another non-native plant-barberry. Neither man nor beast will follow them into that thicket, and they know it.

There are something like 70 species of Helianthus and it’s hard to know which one you’re looking at sometimes. I know this one isn’t the woodland sunflower but that’s about all I know. I like seeing them just the same, whether I can name them or not.

Our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are still blooming but they’ve slowed down quite a lot and are busier making seeds than new flowers. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

Imagine; a sunflower turning its back to the sun. But according to an article on National Public Radio this is normal; scientists have found that once sunflowers mature like the one shown they stop following the sun and face east. When young they greet the sunrise in the east and then as the day progresses they follow it to the west until it sets. During the night time they slowly turn back to the east to again to wait for the next sunrise. They do this through a process called heliotropism, which scientists say can be explained by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour internal clock that humans also have. The plant actually turns itself by having different sides of its stem elongate at different times. Growth rates on the east side of the stem are high during the day and low at night. On the west side of the stem the growth rate is high at night and low during the day, and the differing growth rates turn the plant.

Isn’t nature amazing?

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. ~Luther Burbank.

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We still have plenty of flowers blooming as this view of a local pond side shows, but from this point on we’ll have very few new ones coming along. There will be a few more asters and a goldenrod or gentian or two but for the most part what you see here is the season finale for wildflowers.

Garden flowers on the other hand, will steal the show until the foliage begins to show color. Many will bloom right up until a hard frost but chances are this sunflower that I saw in the garden of some friends won’t make it quite that long. Sunflowers are a very pretty flower and I wish I’d see more of them but not many people seem to grow them.

If I said “St. John’s wort” chances are good that most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

The bright red flower buds of marsh St. John’s wort are as pretty as the flowers.

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is the first blue aster I’ve seen this year. I found this plant growing in a very wet, sunny meadow. I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems make this one easier than most.

In my last flower post I showed the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which, if I was going by color and flower size alone would look identical to me, but my color finding software says that the flower on that one is purple and this one is blue. That and the zig zag stems lead me to the crooked stemmed aster. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

It’s already time to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends the eastern forked blue curls, which surprised me by following me home and growing in my own yard. I spend a lot of my free time searching for flowers and trying to remember where each one of them grows, so any that choose to grow here are very welcome indeed,  especially when they’re as beautiful as this one.

It’s also time to say goodbye to brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) Since the plant is so invasive in certain places I suppose I should be glad that it hasn’t followed me home, but I do like its flowers. They’re colorful and unusual and I enjoy seeing large colonies of them all blooming at once. They really don’t seem very invasive here.

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

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Another name for nodding smartweed and some other Polygonum species is lady’s thumb, and they get that 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. There are over 200 species of Polygonum.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

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

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, spearmint flowers appear at the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

August is when many of our asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata.) It gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaf arrangement of this aster really doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like the edge of a dinner plate but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length, and that means they aren’t in a whorl. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. This plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. Something I didn’t know about the plant is how its leaves have a faint smell of spearmint when they’re crushed. Many thanks to blogging friend Kenneth Posner for that interesting bit of information.

Whorled wood aster is one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

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1-ne-asters

As if someone flipped a switch, all of the sudden New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are blooming everywhere. Though they’re usually a light purple color I’m seeing more of the deep purple ones that I like so much this year. Asters are very beautiful things that provide one last ecstatic pollen gathering fling for the bees.

2-bee-on-thistle

But the bees aren’t choosy and this bull thistle blossom (Cirsium vulgare) was as good as an aster, even though the asters bloomed just a few yards away.  Last year I was in a field where light and dark colored asters grew side by side and I saw bees go for the lighter colored aster blossoms nearly every time as they all but ignored the darker blossoms. I’ve wondered since if that’s why I don’t see as many of the deep purple asters.

3-johnny-jump-up

Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have bloomed quietly all summer; so unobtrusive but always able to coax a smile and warm a heart. Maybe that’s why they’re also called heart’s ease. Long used medicinally in Europe, here it is a welcomed alien. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare wrote that the juice of this plant placed on the eyelids of a sleeping person would cause that person to “dote upon the next live creature that they see.” In that play it was also called “love-in-idleness.”

4-yarrow

Johnny jump ups might have some historical baggage but humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

5-yarrow

According to one source each tiny yarrow blossom is supposed to have 5 ray floret “petaloids” but I can count more than that on some of these so I checked another source, which said 3 to 8. That seems more like it. 15 to 40 off white or pale yellow disc florets fill the center.

6-beech-drops

Beech drops (Epifagus americana) grow in deep shade and can be hard to photograph. This isn’t a good shot but it does show the plant’s growth habit and lack of leaves, which is what I’d like you to see. Beech drops grow near beech trees and are a parasite that fasten onto the roots of the tree using root like structures. They take all of their nutrients from the tree so they don’t need leaves, chlorophyll or sunlight. Beech drops are annuals that die off in cold weather, but they can often be found growing in the same place each year.

7-beech-drop-roots

The root like structures on beech drops, called haustoria, can penetrate a beech root. Once inserted the plant takes nutrients from the tree.

8-beech-drop-blossom

Tiny pinkish purple flowers with a darker purplish  or reddish stripe are the only things found on a beech drop’s leafless stems. On the lower part of the stem are flowers that never have to open because they self-fertilize. They are known as cleistogamous flowers. On the upper part of the stem are tubular chasmogamous flowers, which open and are pollinated by insects and are shown in the above photo. This example had what looks like a yellow pistil poking out of it; the first time I’ve seen this. Science doesn’t know much about which insects pollinate this plant.

9-beech-drop-blossom

Beech drop blossoms are quite small and hard to get a good photo of because they grow in such deep shade. No plant can live in complete darkness though, so they usually have a sunbeam or two that finds them at some point each day. You just have to be lucky enough to find the plant and sunbeam at the same time. It’s not as hard as it sounds if you’re willing to wander a bit.

10-balloon-flower

Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.

11-goldenrod

I thought this was hairy goldenrod (Solidago hispida) but its stems and leaves aren’t hairy. Instead the leaves have a downy coating, so I think it must be downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula.) Both plants 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.

12-goldenrod

Though still small the bright yellow 1/4 inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. 9-16 ray petals surround the central disc. 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.

13-hedge-bindweed

This isn’t much of a photo of a bindweed blossom but I wanted you to see it because of the tiny black dot just to the right of center. It’s a deer tick. Adult ticks will climb onto grasses, plants, and shrubs and perch there sometimes for months waiting for an animal or human to come by. We have two kinds of common ticks in New Hampshire; deer ticks and American dog ticks. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and dog ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed. Ticks carry many diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you spend most of your waking hours outside as I do, ticks are impossible to avoid and I’ve been bitten several times. I’m very thankful that I’m still healthy.

14-pale-sunflower

Friends of mine grew sunflowers from seed and they all looked like sunflowers except this small pale one, which decided it wanted to be a dahlia.

15-red-clover

Red clover (Trifolium pretense) is originally from Europe and was brought to this country by English colonials, who used it medicinally and agriculturally. It is a very beautiful thing that glows with its own inner light, and I have to stop and admire it every now and then. Had I been an early settler I surely would have had a few of its seeds in my pocket.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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1-pink-turtlehead

The pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) are blooming in my garden; one of the very last plants to do so. A friend gave me this plant many years ago and I think of her every time I see it bloom. That’s one of the best things about giving and receiving plants; they come with memories. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

2-heath-aster

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster.

3-heath-aster

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids, so they can be hard to identify. One of the features that helps with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on one side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmowed fields and pastures.

4-heath-aster

White heath aster blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

5-beggar-ticks

Beggar’s Ticks (Bidens) are  plants that teach patience because they suddenly appear in late July and grow for several weeks before they flower. There are nearly 200 species in the genus and many of them look nearly identical. I think this one might be purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata.) 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 grew beside the Ashuelot River and shows the plant’s often open, branching habit and its purple stems. I’ve also seen these plants growing in water at the edge of ponds.

6-beggar-ticks

If you wait for the flowers of many beggar’s ticks to open more than what is seen in this photo you’ll be waiting a very long time, because this is about the extent of it for them. The yellow orange flowers have disc flowers but no rays like asters and daisies, so they always seem to be unopened.

7-crown-vetch

Crown vetch (Securigera varia)  is about done for this year but I did see a few in bloom recently. This one had a surprise.

8-crown-vetch-blossom

The crown vetch flower head actually had an open blossom on it, which in my experience is rare. Tucked down inside the keel, which is made up of two of the five petals, are 10 male stamens and a single female pistil. Another petal stands vertically and becomes the standard, and the final two are lateral wings. Each pink and purple flower is around 3/8ths of an inch long. The plants are worth watching for. Large colonies of them are beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

9-sweet-everlasting

Sweet everlasting’s (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An odd name for this plant is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

10-sweet-everlasting

This example had a fully open flower, which is something I don’t see that often. In this stage the plant is releasing its seeds, which are small and brown and attached to the fluffy bits in the center. What look like petals are actually papery bracts. The plant is said to smell like maple syrup when crushed, but I’ve never tried it. I find it in sunny, sandy waste areas and on roadsides.

11-sunflower

Friends of mine grew some beautiful sunflowers this year.

12-sunflower-close

There’s such an awful lot going on in there.

13-japanese-knotweed

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) hasn’t been affected at all by our drought as far as I can tell. This plant along with purple loosestrife is one of the worst invasives, because it spreads so fast and so thickly that it chokes out all other plants. It is listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s worst invasive species. A viable plant can grow from as little as .7 grams of rootstock so digging it does little good. Cutting or mowing also does no good. It just grows back bushier than ever.

14-japanese-knotweed

The thousands of tiny white flowers and its resemblance to bamboo are why Japanese knotweed was imported from England back in the late 1800s. It has since spread to 39 of the 50 United States and is found in all provinces in Canada except Manitoba.

15-purple-stemmed-aster-aka-symphyotrichum-puniceum

My color finding software sees just two colors in the ray florets of this aster; thistle and plum, so I guess it’s a blueish purple. Except for the stems, which are reddish purple, and that’s a good thing since its name is purplestem aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum.) Its branching stems are very hairy and can sometimes reach 6 feet high. The flowers are about an inch or maybe a little more across. It likes its head in the sun and its feet wet, like along a stream or river. I’m still waiting to see the New England asters. The Native American Ojibwa tribe used parts of the root mixed with tobacco as a smoking mixture used to attract game.

16-bottle-gentians

My last flower post ended with a photo of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) that I had just found, but which hadn’t reached full color. I went back to see if their color had darkened any in a week.

17-bottle-gentian

They hadn’t darkened very much but I wasn’t surprised. I’ve waited several weeks for flower buds showing color to mature in the past. They were still very beautiful and well worth the hike, since this is only the second time I’ve seen them.

When the goldenrod is yellow,
And leaves are turning brown –
Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown
.
~Beverly Ashour

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