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Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey New Hampshire’

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

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

Luckily the plant’s stem is flexible and can be gently bent back so you can get a good look at the pretty flowers. The flowers are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, which can just barely be seen in this shot.

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

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another plant with seeds that like to stick to clothing using little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods. Though its flowers weren’t fully open it’s still easy to tell that this is another plant in the pea family. There is no nectar to be had but bumblebees collect the pollen. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The big bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) have come into bloom and are as full of thorns as ever. I remember at the end of the growing season one year I saw a single flower left on a plant but it was right in the middle of the plant, and I paid for that photo with a few drops of blood. These plants are originally from Europe and are considered invasive but since nobody really want to touch them, they have been fairly successful. Goldfinches will be along to eat the seeds later on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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The pale, sulfur yellow petals of sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) have a deeper yellow splash in the center as if egg yolk had been spilled on them. This is a two-foot tall, rough looking plant that is said to be invasive, but I hardly ever see it and when I do, never in great numbers. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides and in waste places and it is said to out compete grasses, but I don’t know where. I think it’s a very pretty flower and it’s big enough to be seen from a distance.

I have found orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) growing in a meadow in Hancock, and I’ve also found it growing in another meadow in Walpole, but I’ve never seen it here until I found it growing in a roadside ditch. The meadows are hot and dry places in summer, with poor soil, but the roadside ditch has wetter soil so it’s hard to figure out what this plant prefers. Orange is a hard color to find in nature, so I’d love to see more of them. It’s from Europe and is considered invasive but I’m not sure where it is invasive.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) have just started blooming. Their tubular, pale yellow flowers grow near the ends of arching branches that can hang down almost to the ground, so many people don’t even notice them. They are low growing shrubs that are especially interesting because of the orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It’s a pretty little thing that is native to eastern North America.

The flowers of bush honeysuckle have a single long, hairy petal that serves as a landing pad for insects. The hairs give them something to hang on to, presumably. Another interesting feature of these flowers is the big (relatively) red, mushroom shaped pistil.

There are quite a few plants in this post that I’ve never seen before, and one of them is the dwarf mallow (Malva neglecta) that I found growing along the foundation of an old mill building. From what I’ve read it is also called button weed or cheese plant. The leaves and flowers can be used to treat throat irritation and bronchitis. The seeds contain 21% protein and 15.2% fat and are eaten. In fact from what I’ve read the entire plant can be eaten.

A couple of years ago I found another mallow, but it was an upright plant that was about 5 feet tall. It bloomed in the fall and with help it was identified as marshmallow. This one is very low growing, almost creeping, but that could be caused by where it grows. It might have been “trained” to creep the way it does by being repeatedly weed whacked. In any event it’s a very pretty little flower, maybe an inch across. The identification comes from Google lens which isn’t always correct, so if you disagree, I hope you’ll let me know.

The milkweeds are starting to bloom, and native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is related to them. If you break a stem white latex will drip from it, much like milkweed. It is a wildflower that is a bit woody and looks like a two-foot-tall shrub. It likes growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges, or in clearings. Many species of butterflies rely on it, so it should be left to grow whenever possible.

Spreading dogbane has pretty little small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. It is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just about big enough to hold a pea.

Common milkweed has also just come into bloom. It’s a very beautiful flower that few pay any attention to. I’ve known it for such a long time. One of my earliest memories includes watching big black and yellow garden spiders catch insects in the webs that they stretched across adjoining milkweed plants.

Common sage flowers (Salvia officinalis) have never appeared on this blog and that is mostly because I never paid them any attention. For thousands of years many Native American tribes have used sage as an incense and a purifying herb. It is burned before traditional ceremonies as a spiritual cleanser, and is one of the herbs included in medicine bundles and amulets. I once worked for a lady who was studying homeopathic medicine and she had me grow armloads of sage that I cut, hung and dried for her. She used it medicinally and also as incense. Her house always smelled like thanksgiving.

But this time I have come for the flowers, and they’re very pretty. I won’t ignore them any longer.

White wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is having a good year from what I’ve seen, though I only know one place where it grows. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It is considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it.

White wood sorrel goes to great lengths to attract insects, with its yellow spot on each petal and purplish guide lines. All things point right at the center where the treasure is found.

I found Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) blooming by the roadside on one of my walks. Its flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and bloom a bit later. They don’t usually have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center, but this one did. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide shyly just at the sunny edges of the forest.

As far as I know plant breeders have yet to come up with a truly black flower, but this columbine certainly looked black when I saw it. The camera saw it differently though, and I saw deep purple when I looked at the photo. It’s amazing how different it looks now compared to how it looked in the garden it grew in.

It was beautiful no matter how you looked at it, but it wasn’t black.

I don’t know what is going on with mountain laurels this year but I’m suddenly seeing pink ones. I’ve seen pink sheep laurels and bog laurels, but never a pink mountain laurel growing in a garden. They’ve always been white as long as I’ve known them. But I do like the pink ones, and I think I like them even more than the white ones.

This is something I’ve never seen a peached leaved bluebell (Campanula persicifolia) do. It is normally a bell-shaped flower in the campanula family but this one opened like a daisy. The name campanula comes from the Latin campana meaning bell, but this flower didn’t want any part of it and shrugged it off and became something new. I applauded its nonconformity.

Here is what a conventional peach leaved bluebell flower looks like. Until I saw the flower in the previous photo, I would have said that they had five lobes. The name “peach leaved” comes from its leaves resembling those of the peach tree. It is very easy to grow-literally a “plant it and forget it” perennial and it is said to be an English cottage garden classic. I’ve read that it grows in the Alps and other mountain ranges in Europe, but its natural habitat is woodland margins, rocky outcrops in broad-leaved woods, meadows and stream banks. It’s a very pretty, old fashioned flower that should really still be used in any perennial bed. I’d love to see a field full of them.

I saw a late blooming orange azalea in a local park. Some orange “flame” azaleas can shout, but this one barely whispered.

Here was another plant I’ve never seen before called wide or willow leaf eastern blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia). I love the star shaped blue flowers on a plant which reminds me of garden phlox, in a way. Its shape and height seem similar. It’s a native plant that is a member of the dogbane family, and it has a white, latex sap. From what I’ve read the sap makes it unappetizing to rabbits, slugs and deer. There are butterflies that like it very much though, so it sounds like a winner. I found it in a local garden.

I go by a house fairly regularly when I walk and the yard is mostly flowerless, but then one day there was this large mass of foot tall blooms which my color finding software tells me are violet or orchid colored. They grew right beside the road and I was surprised to see when I walked over to them that they were catchfly plants (Silene armeria). This plant is originally from Europe and is also called sweet William catchfly. It is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe and is supposed to be a “casual weed” in New Hampshire. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty flower that really makes a statement when massed as these were, but I rarely see it.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) is suddenly everywhere. And I do mean everywhere; I’ve even seen this plant off in the woods in any spot that happens to get enough sunlight. Often if you find it in the shade the flowers will appear purple to the camera but in this bright sunlight on this day, they were white.

The forest floor is dotted here and there with small white, four pointed, furry stars and that means it’s partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) time. The flowers are always twinned, so there are two pair here. The tiny flowers are unusual in how they share a single ovary, and the red berry they produce will have two dimples where the flowers were. My favorite part of the plant is its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of metal. I hope you have such wonders where you are.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music. They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

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June is when the big female snapping turtles come up out of the ponds and swamps to find some warm sand to lay their eggs in. This one had just done so and still had wet mud clinging to her when I saw her on one of my walks. Egg laying seems to be quite a project for the big reptiles but every year many thousands of eggs are lain, so they always find a way.

Seeing this garter snake might have stopped the snapper in its tracks, because they are omnivores and eat snakes, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, plants, birds, small mammals, and even other turtles. It was on another walk that I saw this snake and what was really odd about it was how it was out in the open in daylight. They often come out to the edge of the woods to sun themselves during the day but are always within easy reach of cover, and will slither off quickly if you approach them. This one had no cover at all, not even high grass.

I kept trying to get a shot of the snake with its forked tongue out, but I missed every time. Garter snakes are timid and nonpoisonous, so they are nothing to worry about. Still, if my grandmother had been there, she would have been up a tree. Garter snakes eat crickets, grasshoppers, small fish, and earthworms. They do have teeth, but they’re no real danger to humans. I’ve read that the saliva of some garter snake species contains a mild neurotoxin that causes paralysis, making small prey easier to swallow.

While I was taking photos an 85 year old lady stopped and rolled down her car window and told me how she was deathly afraid of snakes but, she said, when she was just a girl she once let them drape a boa constrictor over her shoulders at a circus for a free candy bar. I told her she and my grandmother would have gotten along quite well.

That garter snake probably would have like to have met Mr. bullfrog, but I doubt it could have swallowed him. This was a big frog, but I never would have seen it if it hadn’t croaked loudly after a neighboring frog did the same. They do talk to each other. One will start it off and then they’ll all start croaking, one right after the other. It can be quite loud.

On the same day I saw the frog in the previous shot I saw a bullfrog jump right out of the water and snatch something out of the air before landing with a splash, and I think it might have been a cousin of this spangled skimmer dragonfly. The “spangles” are the black and white markings on its wings, otherwise it closely resembles the slaty skimmer, which is what I thought it was at first. It was quite far away when I took this shot. I also saw lots of pretty twelve spotted skimmers on this day but I couldn’t get a shot of any of them.

I saw 3 or 4 eastern swallowtail butterflies probing the damp sand at the edge of a dirt road recently. They’re pretty things and at about the same size as a monarch butterfly, big enough to see easily. They often show up just before the mountain laurels bloom and I see them hanging from the laurel flowers almost every year.

Usually I have to wait for butterflies to fold their wings but this time I had to wait for this one to unfold them. I was hoping it would have more blue/purple on its wings than it did.

I hike in the woods but I walk on roads, and on one of those walks a hawk flew out of the woods, swooped down right over my head, and landed on a wire ahead of me. I thought as soon as I got too near it would fly off but no, I walked over and stood right under it and it didn’t move. I don’t carry my “big” camera with me when I walk because I walk fast and its constantly bumping into my chest bothers me, so I had to get this shot with my small macro camera. That’s why it isn’t a very good shot, but it does show a hawk. I’m not very good with birds but it might be a cooper’s hawk. If you know what it is for sure I’d love to hear its name because I think it lives here and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen it before.

In this shot I took of the evening sky with my phone camera there was a bird flying up there to the right that I never saw until I looked at the photo. I wondered if it could be a hawk, but the detail isn’t fine enough to tell. It’s just a silhouette.

I saw a familiar sight on an oak branch on a recent walk. Wooly oak galls are usually about the size of a ping pong ball when I find them, but have a kind of felt feel, like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and they only appear in spring.

There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. What I want to point out about these galls though, is how books will tell you that they will only grow on white oak trees, and that isn’t true. Though they almost always do grow on white oaks I’ve also seen them on red oaks, so don’t be fooled by the galls like I have been; check the leaves. One thing I’ve learned from studying nature is the words always and never do not apply.

White pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones have come and have opened, and have released their yellow-green pollen to the wind. It settles on everything, and if you leave your windows open you find that it even comes into the house. My car is covered with it but luckily it is like dust and just blows away.

This year I went looking for red pine pollen cones (Pinus resinosa) and the ones I found before they had opened were very beautiful, but they were also in someone’s yard so I didn’t get a shot of them. Then I remembered where there were others that I could get close to and here they are in this photo, but they had already opened. They are much bigger than white pine pollen cones.

Pollen cones are the male flowers of the tree and this photo shows the female flowers. When the male pollen finds them, if all goes according to plan they will be fertilized and will become the seed-bearing pine cones that I think we’re all familiar with. Some flowers on coniferous trees are very small; so small that sometimes all I can see is a hint of color, so you have to look closely to find them.

The Ashuelot River gets lower and lower and still no beneficial rain comes to refill it. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may not be a good year for mushrooms, but I hope I’m wrong.

Another name for royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. You can see them here on the fern in the photo but though they are often purple they don’t look much like flowers to me. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species.

Here is a closer look at the spore capsules of the royal fern. They aren’t something that many people get to see.

For the first time, this year I was able to find and get a shot of a royal fern fiddlehead. Even at this stage it’s a beautiful fern. In the fall, at the other end of its life, it will turn first bright yellow and then will become a kind of beautiful burnt orange color.

Three bracken fern fronds (Pteridium aquilinum) appear at the end of a long stem and flatten out horizontally, parallel to the ground. They also overlap and shade the ground under them. These growth habits and their ability to release chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants means that almost nothing will grow under a colony of bracken fern. They will not tolerate acid rain, so if you don’t see them growing where you live you might want to check the local air pollution statistics.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is not a fern that I see a lot of. It likes damp ground and shade but even beyond that it seems to be very choosy about where it grows. It’s a very beautiful fern that I wish I’d see more of.

Ostrich fern fronds are narrower at the tip and base and wider in the center. The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved, much more pronounced than others. Sensitive, interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much shallower. If you like to eat fern fiddleheads in spring you should get to know ostrich fern by that groove.

In some plants the same pigments that color leaves in the fall when they stop photosynthesizing also color their leaves in the spring before the leaves have started photosynthesizing. Once they start producing more chlorophyll, they’ll quickly turn green. This coloring of new spring leaves is a form of protection from the weather that some plants and even trees use. Heavy cloud cover, cold snaps, and even too much sunlight can cause some leaves to slow down their greening process in spring, but plants like the Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) seen in this photo do it almost every year, I’ve noticed.

Another plant with purple leaves in spring, every spring in my experience, is the native clematis called virgin’s bower or traveler’s joy (Clematis virginiana). It won’t be long before its small white flowers decorate the roadside shrubs as it climbs over them to reach optimum sunlight but by that time all of its leaves will have turned green. 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 very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

There are many grasses starting to flower now and I hope you’ll go out and see them. Never mind your hay fever; I have allergies too. Nature doesn’t mind being sneezed at. Take a pill, grab some tissues and become one of those who sees the beauty that most never see. Even if you have to see it through watery eyes now and then, it’s still beautiful.

A native smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) grew beside a trail and it seemed as if it just flung itself into existence and went wild, with leaves and tendrils and great arching stems everywhere. I thought it was a beautiful thing, and it stopped me right in my tracks. No matter what is going on in life, no matter where you are, there is always beauty to be seen. You don’t even have to search for it; it is just there, like a dandelion blooming in a crack in the sidewalk as you hurry along, or a white cloud floating across a blue sky reflected in the glass of your car window. It is there I think, to remind us to just slow down a little and appreciate life more; to take the time to enjoy this beautiful paradise that we find ourselves in.

If you Love all Life you observe, you will observe all Life with Love.  ~Donald L. Hicks

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It was funny, after walking all around Goose Pond looking for them, to find blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) growing just down the road from my house. The flowers seem to appear overnight, even when the plants didn’t look budded the day before. Then, when you see one or two blossoms you start seeing them everywhere. They love wet feet and will often grow in water. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves.

Black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) are just coming into bloom and they’re beautiful with their long white tresses of very fragrant flowers. Honey made from the flowers is considered choice and commands a high price. These are beautiful trees and we’re lucky to have them as natives. Lucky that is, unless you want to get rid of one. Then you might not feel quite so lucky because there’s a good chance shoots will keep growing from the stump and you’ll probably have seedlings all over the yard. But why would you want to get rid of something so beautiful in the first place?

Black locust is in the pea family, as is easily seen by the shape of the flowers. The wood of the tree has been used for fence posts historically, because it is completely rot resistant. Black locust fence posts have survived a hundred years or more without rotting away. I wish you could smell those flowers. They remind me of white wisteria blossoms.

Native blue bead lilies are having a good year and it’s about time. For the last few years they haven’t bloomed well and the only thing I can think of that is different is all the rain we had last summer. The leaves of the plant look like lady’s slipper leaves without the pleats and the flowers do indeed look like miniature Canada lilies.

Since the flowers nod at the ground they’re hard to get a good shot of but the flower stalk is strong and will take a little gentle bending. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens. 

This photo from a few years ago shows the beautiful electric blue berries that give blue bead lily its name. They will appear later on in July and August and I hope I see some this year because they can be hard to find. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up as soon as they ripen. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

It’s spiderwort (Tradescantia) time again and I hope you aren’t tired of seeing them or hearing stories about them. They used to grow wild on the railroad tracks all the way from my house to downtown Keene and my father used to see them when he walked to and from work at the screw factory each day. That’s why he asked me why I was “dragging those damned old weeds home” when he saw me planting them in the yard. Even trains couldn’t kill them! I don’t remember what my answer was but he never made me dig them up so it must have been a satisfactory one. I’ve always loved their color and I’d guess that was probably just what I told him.

Then a few years ago I ran into a purple flowered tradescantia and I was surprised that plant breeders would be working with damned old weeds like them, but here they were.

I like the purple but I always considered blue my favorite until I saw this one. I just about fell over the first time I saw it and I thought it must be some kind of natural hybrid but no, you can buy it. Its name is “Osprey” and it works so well for me because it is simple but so very beautiful at the same time. If I had to choose which flowers new to me that I had found over the eleven years I’ve been doing this blog that were the most beautiful, this would have to be in the top five. I might just have to have one in my yard someday. Tradescantias do have a bad reputation though, because the old varieties tend to sprawl and have very viable seeds that come up everywhere but I doubt the new hybrids are very challenging. If anyone reading this has tried them, I’d be interested in hearing about the aggressiveness of the newer varieties.

This wisteria is another plant that just about knocked me over when I first saw it. It grows high up in a black cherry tree at a local school and blooms beautifully ever year at this time, unless someone can’t tell what it is by the leaves and cuts it down. That has happened but you aren’t going to kill a wisteria that easily, so it grows right back.

Since the flowers dangle high over head its hard to get good shots of them but this one is good enough to show that wisteria is another plant in the pea family, like the black locust we saw earlier. It is also very fragrant. This is a plant I’d love to have but it’s a big aggressive vine that needs a lot of room and I doubt I could keep it away from the house. If too close to a house they’ll climb up onto the roof and grow under the shingles and eventually tear them right off the roof. They’ll also find any holes in the siding, soffits and fascia and if you aren’t careful, you could find one growing inside your walls. A doctor’s wife I used to work for had me lean out of a second-floor window with a pole pruner occasionally to keep that from happening to her house. They had planted the vine to grow on a pergola that was attached to the house and it was a never-ending battle.

If there had been three red sand spurry flowers (Spergularia rubra) growing together in a triangle with their petals just touching, I could have just about hidden them all from view with a pencil eraser. That’s how small these flowers are. But size doesn’t matter where beauty is concerned because they are a quite beautiful little “weed.” This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas.

Blunt leaved sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) with its masses of aspirin size white flowers is blooming and I think this year it is blooming better than it ever has, because I’m seeing many thousands of flowers everywhere I go. It’s a pretty little native plant that looks like it might make a good groundcover. It is said to like woodlands, woodland edges, prairies, and along streams in rocky or sandy soil. I’ve read that it is easily overlooked and I would say that was true. Another name is grove sandwort.

I saw a beautiful old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia) at the local college. It looked like a floral waterfall. If you’re looking for a low to no maintenance shrub that asks for nothing, this is the shrub for you. When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one but I don’t see many now. This one is huge; it grew far up over my head.

I find large drifts of dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) in a local park and I’m always glad an overzealous weeder hasn’t weeded it out. But I suppose technically, it is a weed. In fact it’s an invasive species, but it’s a pretty one that has a heavenly fragrance. This drift used to be well mixed with white, pink and purple but now it is mostly purple, which must be the dominant color.

Dame’s rocket at a glance could easily be confused with garden phlox but just count the petals. Phlox has five petals and dame’s rocket has four. I’m seeing these plants along roadsides more each year, so they are spreading.

This is the first time you’ve seen a camas on this blog because this is the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s a very pretty flower that is in the lily family and grows from a bulb. I don’t know for sure what its name is but it resembles photos I’ve seen of the common camas (Camassia quamash.) The bulbs of the plant were highly valued by many Native American tribes. Once cooked, a third of bulb’s weight became the sugar fructose and Natives dried them or ground them into a kind of sweet flour after steaming or roasting them. According to the U.S. Forest service the prairie tribe Nez Pierce fed Lewis and Clark camas in 1805. Lewis liked them so much he over ate and became sick, but he wrote a detailed description of the plant; one of the most detailed accounts of any plant he collected on the entire expedition. If you decide to go to the prairies and try one beware, because there is one called death camas. I think it is a white flowered plant but there is no telling if they cross breed.

A new customer once told me under no circumstances should I plant anemones in her yard. She detested them, she said. Well I told her, you have anemones growing right over there. They’re native Canada or meadow anemones (Anemone canadensis.) She said they weren’t the same anemones she was talking about so I said alright, I just won’t plant any anemones, no matter where they come from. Though I worked for her for many years I never did find out what it was about anemones that she disliked so much. Since they had lived all over the world in many different countries, I’m guessing they must have been the smaller windflowers.

We have so many varieties of native viburnum here that it’s easy sometimes to say “ho hum, just another viburnum.“  That is apparently what I’ve done with the native nannyberry, also called sheepberry (Viburnum lentago,) because it has never appeared on this blog except in bud form. I found this one while searching for nodding trilliums and realized how pretty it was. In fact people like it so much it is often used as a native landscape shrub. It can also be trained to a single stem and used as a small tree.

The numerous small, five lobed white flowers are very pretty with their five yellow tipped stamens. They’ll be followed by edible dark blue, juicy one seeded berries (drupes), which are sometimes called wild raisins. If you are trying to attract birds and other wildlife to your garden nannyberry, or any of our many other native viburnums, would be an excellent choice. And you’d also have a garden full of beautiful flowers as well.

It’s going to be a good year for both raspberries and blackberries. These plants grow along one of the walks I regularly take, so I might have to sample a few before the birds get them all.

For the violet lovers out there, I finally found a true marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata) that I can be sure of. I can say, also for certain, that it is not the only violet that raises its flowers high above the leaves on long stems, as the Forest Service says it is. There has to be at least one other violet that does that because it is that one that I have kept confusing with the marsh blue violet. Whatever it is, it grows by the hundreds in the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland.

If you’ve ever looked closely at a violet blossom, you probably noticed that most of them have fine hairs called “beards” on the two side petals, just at the throat. Marsh blue violets have short, thick, club shaped hairs instead and it is that feature that will make them easy to identify from now on. At least I hope so. This plant has given me a rough ride.

The first rose I saw this season was a single pink one that reminded me of an old standby called “Betty Prior” but I think it was too tall and too uniformly pink to be Betty.

I found a very fragrant azalea blooming in a local park that looked a lot like our native early azalea. Unfortunately all the leaves were being eaten by something. The soft tissue was gone and only the ribs were left. Whether this will weaken the plant enough to keep it from blooming next year, I don’t know. I hope not, because it’s a beautiful thing. There is no such thing as too much beauty in this life.

Every bird, every tree, every flower reminds me what a blessing and privilege it is just to be alive.
~Marty Rubin

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Here we are at the time of year when it’s almost time to leave the forest to seek the flowers that need sunlight rather than shade but first there are a few flowers still blooming in the woods, like the beautiful wild azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) seen in the photo above. They are also called early azaleas, though others in the family such as rhodora do bloom first. In my last post I spoke about finding the kind of beauty that makes me go silent and still, and this beautiful native shrub always does that to me.

This shot shows how hairy the buds are. Those hairs persist even after the flowers open and they are what give this plant another name: wooly azalea. It is those hairs that emit the wonderful fragrance that these flowers have. It is a fragrance that is said to induce creative imagination.

I’ve been waiting a few years now for pretty little bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) to have a good year and finally, here it is. If they look familiar that’s because they are in the dogwood family. Like a dogwood blossom its large white bracts surround its smaller flowers. Even the 2 larger and 4 smaller leaves look like a dogwood. In fact, an old name for the plant is creeping dogwood. They like moist, shady woods.

If pollinated each tiny flower will become a bright red, single seeded drupe, and the plant will then have the bunch of “berries” that give it its common name. It is rare in my experience to find a plant full of fruit, but I keep looking. The plant’s berries are loaded with pectin and Native Americans used them both medicinally and as food.

Here bunchberry plants are growing through the V made by two oak branches, as they do here almost every year. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that they must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

I found a dogwood tree blooming at the local college so I took a photo of one of the flowers. It looks remarkably like a larger version of a bunchberry blossom, so it’s easy to see why they are in the same family.

Pretty little blue eyed grass blossoms (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), hardly bigger than an aspirin, have appeared. The plants are in the iris family and if I had gotten a better shot of the leaves it would be obvious. They are the same bluish gray color as those of bearded irises. It is just a roadside “weed” to many, but I look forward to seeing it each year.

Blue eyed grass flowers taught me this year that they come out very dark, like the blossom on the left and then fade rather quickly to look like that blossom on the left. I’ve never noticed this before.

What look like tiny purple airplanes are now carpeting forest floors. Though this little plant in the milkwort family’s common name is fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) another name is “gaywings,” so that tells me that I’m not the only one who sees the resemblance to planes. They’re small and at a glance can pass for a violet so you have to keep your eyes on the ground to find them.

They’re very pretty and worth finding. the flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal which is mostly hidden. When an insect lands on the fringed part, the third petal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube. It’s an amazing process that I keep hoping I’ll see happen but so far, not yet.

As I always do, I immediately thought of my mother when I saw these white lilacs. She planted one just before she died and though I never knew her she lives on in the flowers she chose to plant in the yard. I know, by what she chose, that she loved both color and fragrance. When I sat on the porch as a boy and smelled the lilacs or the cabbage roses, or in the fall when I admired the beautiful scarlet leaves of the Virginia creeper she planted, she was there. And she still is. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child in my opinion, is a love of flowers. It doesn’t take much; my mother did it without even being there. Whatever flowers you grow they will learn to love them, and later on in life when they see a flower they grew up with, they’ll think of you.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a low growing summer wildflower with small, 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old-fashioned groundcover but it likes plenty of water; it won’t spread if it gets too dry. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. They are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

The long wiry stems of what I believe is marsh stitchwort (Stellaria palustris) keep the flowers up above the tall grass so insects can find them. The flowers are said to be smaller than those of greater stitchwort but larger than those of lesser stitchwort, but such things don’t excite me anymore so I don’t pay much attention. I just enjoy seeing their cheery faces alongside the path I’m on, even if they aren’t native. They are a native of Europe and are also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The Stellaria part of the scientific name means “star like,” and the common name stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) had just started blooming when I found a large colony of them on one of my walks. This is one of the first plants I have stored in my memory. I can remember as a boy picking them along with violets and dandelions to bring to my grandmother. To this day I still like the colors white, yellow and purple together.

I found a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) that had just come up. It hadn’t reached full size yet but it had the beginnings of the reddish “V” at the base of each petal. Someone thought it looked as if they had been painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. This one also displayed where the undulatum part of the scientific name came from with its wavy, undulating petal edges. They will straighten out a bit as the plant grows. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties, though I never did find nodding trilliums this year.

I had never seen bird’s eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) anywhere but in Hancock where I used to work until I went grocery shopping and looked in an old pasture where a barn used to stand before the store was built. There were hundreds of them growing there, so if my memory still works in the future I’ll be able to see them whenever I want. Most speedwell flowers are borderline microscopic but these are huge in comparison. I’d guess they must be as big as an aspirin. Another name for the plant is germander speedwell.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is a flower that always makes me smile, and not just because it is so pretty. No, I smile because it is a flower that reveals a lot about people at this time of year. You can go by a house that has not a flower or flowering shrub or tree anywhere on its property, but then in spring a big island of robin’s plantain will have been left uncut in the mowed lawn. This plant is in the fleabane family and is the earliest fleabane to bloom, with big 1-inch blossoms. They can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. It’s a pretty, very noticeable “weed.”

I went to a spot I had never been to off in the woods near Willard Pond in Hancock and found hundreds of pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule), more than I’ve ever seen together anywhere else. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and I was happy to see so many growing together. I wondered how many other large colonies there were off in the wilderness that nobody has ever seen. I hope there are many.

That flower in the previous photo was quite dark pink but here was one that was lighter. Lady’s slippers, as do all orchids, have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

Guide hairs inside the flower, which can just be seen in this shot, point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Is it any wonder that orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants?

Pollination had been very successful in this spot. I saw many lady’s slipper seedpods. These seed pods contain between 10,000 and 20,00 tiny, dust like seeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service “The seeds require threads of a fungus in the Rhizoctonia genus to break them open and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.” This is why it is waste of time to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild and expect them to grow in your yard.

Since I skipped doing a flower post one week, I’m behind in keeping up with showing you what is blooming and has bloomed here. I went back out to the ledges in Westmoreland as I said I would though, and found the columbines in beautiful, full bloom. This would have been about 2 weeks ago, I think. I was happy to find more plants blooming than I ever have before, and I hope some of you were also able to see them.

There is no other flower that I know of that is quite like them. When a breeze blows through where they grow, they all dance at the ends of their long wiry stems and you can imagine them making themselves more visible to the insect by doing so.

I always like to show this photo of a columbine blossom from a few years ago because it helps to illustrate how various names came to be attached to this flower. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Others have thought they resembled pigeons around a dish, and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” Throughout history columbines have been associated with birds, but I didn’t see eagles or doves when I saw this photo. I immediately thought of five beautiful white swans with outstretched wings. However you choose to look at a columbine blossom it is a beautiful thing, and growing them adds interest to any garden.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~Rumi

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Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are having a great year and I’m seeing lots of them. They usually grow in the forest in places that gets an hour or two of sunlight, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They sparkle like the first snowflakes of winter on the forest floor. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and four inches is just about how tall they grow.

 I always like to see how many flowers I can find on a single starflower plant and this year I’m seeing many with three flowers. I’ve seen four flowers twice but one of the flowers had passed each time. It used to be that seeing three flowers was rare and seeing four was almost unheard of, but they seem to have more flowers each year now. More flowers are always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) grow alongside trout lilies in many places and though the trout lilies didn’t do well this year the anemones did. Anemones are sun lovers and they bloomed well, so it can’t be a lack of sunlight that caused of the lack of trout lily blossoms.

Much like a bloodroot blossom the petals of an anemone have almost imperceptible veins that show only in the right light. I was lucky enough to be there and able to capture it when the lighting was right.

There’s nothing left to see of them where I go, but I met a friend on a trail one day and he said the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) in his yard were blooming beautifully. What the differences were between his yard and the places I visited, I don’t know.

Crabapples are blooming beautifully this year and some trees are so full of blossoms you almost can’t see the branches. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The tree in my own yard was full of blossoms last year and this year I couldn’t find a single one.

Apples are also doing well. We’re lucky to have wild apple and crabapple trees on forest edges almost everywhere you look. Many people don’t realize that apples aren’t native because they’ve been with us for so long. My grandmother had a few trees which, by the time I came along, were grown more for their flowers than for fruit. They were very fragrant and I have many happy memories of bringing branches full of flowers upstairs to her.

The fragrance of lilacs is all I smell when I go on my daily walks now. Almost every house on any street I walk on has at least one, but though it is the state flower of New Hampshire it is not native to North America. I’m glad we have them though. It just wouldn’t be spring without them.

I know of only two places where rare dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) grows and in one of them, I was happy to find many seedlings this year. This one’s flowers had deeply pleated petals, which is something I can’t remember ever seeing. You have to search for the very small plants because they don’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. I find them by a forested stream in ground that has never been cultivated that I know of.

Plants are very small and most will easily fit inside a teacup. Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked.

There are close to 45 species of pussytoes (Antennaria), which makes identifying them difficult, but they are popping up in lawns everywhere right now. They’re a good sign that the lawn has poor soil, because this plant likes to grow in sandy, rocky, almost gravel like soil. Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species so they’re an important plant. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. Its female flowers seen in this photo.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws, and that’s where they get their common name. Someone also thought the stamens on a male pussytoes flower, seen here, looked like butterfly antennae. I don’t know about that but that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I learned a long time ago that trying to identify small yellow flowers can make you crazy so I pass most of them by, but this one follows me wherever I go. It could be a dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is native.

Whatever its name is I think the bright yellow flowers are pretty. I see them blooming everywhere right now.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is an old-fashioned shrub that I’m not sure is even sold any more, but back when I was gardening it was fairly common. This one is very old and large, and it was just coming into bloom when I found it.

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves do. It’s in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. I worked for a lady who called it Japonica, which is what it was called in the 1800s. I planted a quince hedge once for some people and it worked out well.

If you happen to be a violet lover this is your year. I’ve never seen so many.

I thought these were dog violets but if I go by the longish throat hairs they can’t be, because dog violets have short, stubby throat hairs. I learned that recently by reading the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog. It’s one of my favorites and it can be found over there on the right.

And what about this violet that looks like someone splattered it with paint? I found it in a garden at a local park.

Its name is “Freckles” (Viola Sororia Freckles) and I kind of like it, but knowing how quickly violets multiply as I do, would I dare plant it in a garden? I think I’d have to talk to someone who had planted it in their garden first to see if it was bent on taking over the world. I spent far too many years weeding violets out of gardens to have a nonchalant attitude about planting them, even if it is a cultivar.

I think tulip time is over now but this is my favorite for this post.

I like looking inside tulips, and this is why. You never really know what you’ll see, so it’s part of the fun.

These tulips had gone far beyond their best, but they were going out with a bang. Their petals moved like ocean waves and I thought they were passing on beautifully.

Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough. ~Jill Badonsky

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I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue, they aren’t found on twigs or bark. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for coming by.

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