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Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey New Hampshire’

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is blooming and it hopes you’ll come by later and give it a ride. The plant a good example of a biennial plant. In the first year of life it grows leaves and in the second year it flowers, sets seeds, and dies. This is what biennials do, so we know that its tubular flowers with purple stamens and white styles signal that it is close to finishing its journey. There is no reason to grieve though, because the germination rate of its seeds is high and there will surely be burdocks for many years to come, especially if you (or your dog) help spread them around.

Burdock is said to have been introduced from Europe because it was noted in 1672 by self-styled naturalist John Josselyn, who wrote that it had “sprung up since the English Planted and kept Cattle in New-England.” He said the same thing about the dandelion, but fossil evidence proved him wrong. Native American tribes across the country had many uses for burdock, both as a medicine and food, so some form of the plant had to have been here long before European settlers arrived. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. As the above photo shows, when fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple flowers.

No matter how many times I see the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) I don’t see a monkey, but whoever named it obviously did. This plant gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and it isn’t all that common. I usually have a hard time finding it. This year though, for the first time, I found several plants growing beside the river in Keene.

Allegheny monkey flowers have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. The throat is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green.

I’ve searched for years for floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos of and this year I finally found them. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from.  

The tiny but very pretty flowers of floating heart are about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. I was very happy to finally see them up close.

Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is a legume in the bean family. This plant gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks, much like enchanter’s nightshade. 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. I saw these examples in an unmown meadow.

Showy tick trefoil has pretty flowers that are obviously in the pea / bean family. It is also called Canada trefoil. One odd fact about this plant is that there are no known uses of it by Native Americans or colonials. From my experience that’s rare among native plants in this area. Maybe they just picked the beautiful flowers and used them to decorate their homes.

I saw these striking daylilies in a local children’s park. The plant breeders are obviously still trying to breed a black daylily but they haven’t quite got it yet.

They grow an ornamental datura (Datura metel) at the local college.  I’ve seen Datura many times, but never as beautiful as these. I think this one is a black Datura hybrid called Datura metel Fastuosa “Double Purple Blackberry.” A native Datura found here is called Jimson weed, which is a corruption of the original Jamestown weed, signaling where it was first found. Each blossom opens in the evening and lasts until about noon the following day.

I’ve gone to see them several times this year but I can’t find a blossom fully opened, so this will have to do. these datura blossoms are doubled with many ruffles and they never really seem to be fully open. Bees in the know crawl in from the side and then down into the trumpet but I didn’t see any on this day. Datura contains several powerful toxic compounds and even the honey made from its flowers can sometimes lead to poisoning.

The seeds and flowers are the most toxic parts of the datura plant, but they were used in sacred rituals for many thousands of years by Native American shamans and the plant is still called “Sacred Datura” by many. Native Americans knew the plant well though, and knew what dosages would and wouldn’t kill. Many with less experience have died trying to test the hallucinogenic effects of the plant. This is the strange, spiky seed pod of this datura.

Zinnias grow in the same garden as the datura and this one caught my attention. These flowers are usually swarming with painted lady butterflies but I haven’t seen a one yet this year.

But I have seen plenty of garden phlox! It’s another of those flowers that whisper of autumn’s approach. I pretend I’m deaf for as long as I can though, and just admire their beauty.

Slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is a goldenrod that’s easy to identify because of its long slender, willow like leaves and its pleasant, vanilla like fragrance that is impossible to describe. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf. It is also called flat topped goldenrod. Insects of all kinds swarm over slender fragrant goldenrod and you have to be careful that you aren’t going to inhale one when you smell it.

Whorled white wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall indeed and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser size, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis. The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) almost always blooms in pairs on grassy hummocks near rivers and ponds and that’s where I always find them. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the “mad dog” part of the common name comes from.

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog and marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

You don’t need to be on a vision quest to see the beautiful light that shines from this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. I’m not surprised; how could anyone pull up something so beautiful?

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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This past weekend was an uncharacteristically busy one for me, with the car having to be looked at and modems and routers to change, so I lost a lot of time to the busyness. Because of that I decided to take a simple walk around the neighborhood. This is something I enjoy but I’ve been putting it off, so it was time. The view above is of a small pond in the neighborhood where turtles, frogs, beavers and muskrats live. Ducks, geese, and an occasional great blue heron will also stop in now and then. The strange green stuff on the far end is tree pollen, and it shows that it hasn’t rained for a while.

The water in the pond is so low cattails (Typha latifolia) are almost growing on dry land. It’s hard to believe that we actually need rain after the non-stop rains of spring. Cattails can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds though, and even help the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

A drift of black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) grows beside the pond. I like their cheeriness but not their message of the approaching fall. Summer will end sooner for me than for them; they’ll bloom right up until a hard freeze in October.

Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) grew in curious islands in the pond. I’ve never seen them do this, but I can picture them doing it to the entire pond. The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

There is a small grove of gray birch (Betula populifolia) near the pond and I often search their branches to see if any new lichens have moved in. Gray birch doesn’t have the same bright white bark that paper birches do, but lichens seem to love growing on their limbs.

The largest birch in the previous photo had a split in its bark that made it look as if someone had unzipped it. I can’t imagine what might have caused it but it can’t be good.

One of the reasons I wanted to take this walk was to see if there were any berries on the bunchberry plants that grow in the V made by these two trees. The white dogwood like flowers become a bunch of bright red berries, and that gives the plant its common name. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

But I didn’t see any bunchberry berries today and I wasn’t really surprised; I see maybe one plant with berries for every twenty without. Apparently pollination isn’t very successful among bunchberry plants.

The blueberries crop doesn’t look too bad this year though. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

It looks like we might have a good blackberry harvest as well. Easy to pick blackberries can be found along virtually any rail trail and many woodland trails. Blackberries have been eaten by man for thousands of years. The discovery of the remains of an Iron Age woman called the Haraldskær Woman showed that she ate blackberries about 2500 years ago. The Haraldskær Woman is the body of a woman found naturally preserved in a peat bog in Jutland, Denmark in 1835. Native Americans made a strong twine from fibers found in blackberry canes, and they used piles of dead canes as barricades around villages. I’m guessing that anyone who had ever been caught on blackberry thorns wouldn’t have tried to make it through such a barricade.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a common late summer sight in wet meadows and on river banks. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area. There are also cultivated varieties sold in nurseries.

Eventually if you go the way I did you come to a wooded trail that really doesn’t lead anywhere. It simply connects two roads. I don’t know its history but it makes for an enjoyable walk through the woods.

It’s close to impossible to get a photo of a forest when you’re inside it, but I keep trying. This view shows that these trees are not that old and that means this land was cleared not that long ago.

There are some big white pines (Pinus strobus) out here though. I’d guess many of them are close to 100 years old.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) winds itself among the tall stems of any plant it can find. It is said that bindweed purifies and cleanses the body and calms the mind. Native Americans used the plant medicinally for several ailments, including as an antidote to spider bites.

Meadow sweet (Spirea alba) is just about finished for this year. This plant likes moist ground and I have found it near water more often than not but lately I’ve been seeing it in drier spots as well, like I did on this day.

The small pond that I showed a photo of previously eventually empties into a large swamp, which is called a wetland these days. I’m guessing that beavers and muskrats keep the water way open through it; it has been this way for as long as I’ve lived in the area.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue. It’s one of the earliest denizens of the forest floor to start showing its fall colors. Purples, yellows, oranges, and other colors can be found in its leaves.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem.

There was a very strange beetle (I think) with a big nose on that goldenrod in the previous photo. I haven’t been able to identify it.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

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The little flowers called dewdrops (Rubus dalibarda) are rare here, at least in my experience. I think I’ve seen them only 3 times in 60+ years. I first thought that they needed undisturbed soil to thrive, but I found this one growing in a powerline cut.  It is listed as endangered in several states and is threatened in Michigan and Ohio. It is said to be more common in Canada.

Dewdrop is in the rose family. It is called false violet and is also known as robin runaway and star violet. The name false violet comes from its heart-shaped leaves. Like violets, it has two kinds of flowers, but one of its blooms grows unseen under the leaves. The Native American Iroquois tribe are said to have used the powered plants medicinally, as a blood purifier.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms and in the past it was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long yellow tipped, white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey, even though the town has done their best to cut most of them and other native plants down. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

It’s a good year for pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) I saw this beautiful scene along the Ashuelot River in Keene recently. Someone should paint it; the light was amazing.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched. I liked the way the heavy morning dew decorated its leaves on this morning.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

Though as a boy all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds (Calystegia sepium) it has gotten to the point where I see these bicolor ones as often as the plain white ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

This is closer to the bindweeds I remember as a boy; simple white trumpets. I don’t know when the bi-color pink and white flowers began to appear but I have looked them up and they and the white flowered plants are indeed the same species. But they’re not morning glories.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) starts blooming in late July, so it’s right on schedule. Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I’ve read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person’s name. Monarch butterflies love these flowers but they always remind me that fall is almost here, so I’m not always crazy about seeing them, especially in July.

This plant that I find in a local garden bed has taken me on a wild ride over the last few years because it has been so hard to identify. Thankfully a lot of helpful readers identified it as gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) last year. It turns out that it is very invasive but apparently it didn’t do well last winter because this year I’ve only seen about ten flowers, compared to probably a hundred last year. The plant is originally from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. In fact they grow in shade so dark I couldn’t get a good shot of the entire plant this year, so I’m using this one from 2017. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

After many tries I was able to get a shot of a helleborine orchid flower this year. Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) are one of the first asters to bloom in late summer. They need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the wonky flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susan and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of some of the more than 43 varieties of Liatris. They are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) has just started blooming. This plant originally hails from Europe. It is thought to have been introduced in the colonial era and has spread throughout the United States, much to the dismay of farmers and cattle ranchers. It is also called spear thistle, with good reason. The first flowers often open in the center of the plant as this one did, and that can make it tricky to get a close photo of. Those spines are very sharp. Bees love them and there are usually plenty flying around when I try to take its photo.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) 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. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

I like pokeweed’s very purple stems.

I’m seeing pretty little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) here and there despite the heat and dryness. I think of them as a cool weather flower but apparently they don’t mind a little heat. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it. This one reminded me of a cartoon cat’s face.

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

Thanks for stopping in. Happy August?

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Last Saturday the heat and humidity were supposed to return so I set off for one of my favorite rail trails. Since it was morning and the trail is mostly shaded I thought I’d be fine, but by the time I got back I was hot enough to complain about it.  The heat has kept me indoors just once since I’ve been doing this blog and that was the weekend before this walk when the heat index reached 104 degrees F. The humidity level was so high it made it very close to unbearable, so I spent my time next to an air conditioner. At least on this day the humidity wasn’t bad.

Right off I started seeing flowers, including this aster. I decided long ago that life is too short to spend days or weeks trying to identify asters and goldenrods, so I don’t know its name.

Steeplebush I do know and I was happy to see it. It’s a cousin of meadowsweet and is in the spirea family (Spirea tomentose) like that shrub is. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin. I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge and this one grew by the drainage ditch alongside the trail.

Cattails also grew in the drainage ditch and I liked the way the sunlight played on this one’s leaves. Darkish green is their natural color and the light green / yellow parts are caused by sunlight. When a ray of sunshine falls on a single plant or other bit of nature I always pay attention, and I’ve seen some beautiful things by doing so.

To some people sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) isn’t a very exciting plant and I have to say that I haven’t had much to say about it over the course of this blog, but it is interesting. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small; about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and the scent can travel quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away, and you can also make sweet fern tea from the foliage like Native Americans did.

The leaves of sweet fern do look sort of fern like and that’s how it gets its common name. I often run my hands over the leaves to release the fragrance that is held in tiny resin dots. The fragrance is what it is named for; some compare it to soap, others to spices or fresh mown hay. It is a very unusual scent that smells clean and a bit spicy to me. Sweet fern comes from the same family (Myricaceae) as the bay laurel, which is where bay leaves come from.

Once the spiky bur like husk opens the seed of the sweet fern, called a nutlet, appears.  Though the nutlets usually appear in clusters this example had just one. They’re very small at less than a quarter inch. Scientists have documented germination in seeds which had been in the soil for over 70 years and it is thought that seeds could still grow after lying in the soil for 100 years or more.

Hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) can grow in shade or full sun, so it was right at home along the trail. This fern gets its name from the way that it smells like fresh mown hay when you brush against it. The Native American Cherokee tribe used this fern medicinally to treat chills.

Stone walls are common along rail trails. It was a land owners way of telling the railroad where their right of way ended. Most of the walls along rail trails are very old.

This stretch of rail trail like many others in this area follows the Ashuelot river and you can get a glimpse of it every now and then. The embankment down to it is very high and steep though so actually getting near the river is all but impossible for me.

Some lucky homeowner has built a bridge right from his back yard to the rail trail. It’s easy to forget that these trails run so close to people’s homes but we shouldn’t forget. Just think how you’d feel if you had an endless procession of hikers, joggers, and bicyclists passing your house all day every day. It has to be annoying, so I don’t get upset when I see the occasional no trespassing sign.

In places the water in the drainage ditches had dried up, leaving multicolored mineral deposits behind.

You might have seen an acorn in the previous photo. All along the trail I heard the pfffft of them falling through the tree foliage. If I go by all the nuts and berries I’ve seen I’d guess that the animals will eat well this year.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) slowly turn their heads to the sky. Once they’re looking straight up at the sky that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. They are also called ghost or corpse plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked and the uniflora part of the scientific name means a single flower, which is all each plant has.

Here is a rarely seen (on this blog) view into an Indian pipe flower. At the tips of the 10 stamens surrounding the center stigma are the anthers, colored yellow, which contain pollen. The anthers are open and shedding pollen at this stage.  In the center of the flower is the pollen-collecting stigma, which looks like a funnel between the yellowish stamens. Once pollinated each flower will eventually become a brown seed capsule. These capsules always look like beautiful little carved wooden flowers to me. Once they ripen they will split open into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.

Pretty little fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife blooms later. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed like they are on this example. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year.

The prize for the strangest thing I saw out here on this day goes to this golf ball.  I can’t imagine how anyone could play golf in a forest but maybe an animal stole it off someone’s lawn, I don’t know. It looked to be in new condition.

Before long I reached the trestle, where I stood for awhile thinking about how lucky I was to have a trail into the woods like this. It lets me see things that I’d never be able to see otherwise, like this stretch of river. If it wasn’t for the trail I’d have to bushwack my way through the woods or paddle upriver to get here. Thanks be to the snowmobilers who keep these trails open. They’re also the ones who add the wooden bits to the trestles so nobody drives their machines off them. That wouldn’t be good.

In this shot it doesn’t look like it would be much of a drop from the trestle to the river below.

But looks can be deceiving, and when I add some people in kayaks to the mix you can see that it would indeed be quite a drop. When I was a boy a friend of mine fell from the top of a trestle, which he had climbed, into the river. He lived to tell about it but I never saw him climb to the top of another one. The kayakers by the way were still,  pondering what to do about that big pine tree you can see up ahead that has fallen all the way across the river.

As the river bank showed, the water level is way down, but I’ve grown up on this river and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. If you want to walk across the Ashuelot River August is the time to do it in this area. I used to walk in the river when I was a boy, looking for old bottles. I found a lot of them too, and sold them to local bottle collecting clubs. That was when I learned what it was like to have money in my pocket and it was what led me to work at proper jobs, and that was how I lost my connection to nature for many years. Thankfully I was able to get it back.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

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There wasn’t room in my last post on aquatics to include them all, but there are many other pond side plants blooming at this time of year. One of the prettiest is meadow sweet (Spirea alba.) This plant likes moist ground and I have found it near water more often than not but I’ve seen it in drier spots as well.

Meadowsweet flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy. Some people confuse this plant, which is a shrub, with steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), which is also a shrub, but steeplebush has pink flowers and the undersides of its leaves are silvery-white, while the undersides of meadowsweet leaves are green.

Meadowsweet is in the spirea family so I thought I’d show you this pink spirea I found in a local garden so you could see the resemblance. It also looks fuzzy because of the many stamens.  

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) are blooming and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams, or swamps as this one was. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye for basketry.

Blue, bell shaped flowers all on one side of the stem can mean only one thing; creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides.) The pretty flowered plant was introduced as an ornamental from Europe and has escaped gardens to usually live in dry, shaded places but it will also grow in full sun. It is a late bloomer but is usually finished by the time the goldenrods have their biggest flush of bloom. It is considered an invasive plant in some places because it is hard to get rid of once it has become established. It can choke out weaker native plants if it is left alone. It isn’t considered invasive here in New Hampshire though, and in fact I usually have to look for quite a while to find it. When I do it is usually growing on forest edges.

Purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family and it isn’t hard to tell by the flowers, but the big light gathering leaves look more like a maple than a rose. The big leaves give it a certain tolerance for low light, and that’s how it can grow in the shade so well. The fruit looks like a giant raspberry, about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious. I keep forgetting to try it.

A couple of years ago I found a small colony of long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia.) I’m happy to say there are more blossoms this year. I’ve never seen it growing in the wild until I found it here. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and grows on steppes, grassy mountain slopes, meadows at forest edges and birch forests. Here in the U.S. it is commonly found in gardens but it has obviously escaped. It certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Each tiny long leaf speedwell blossom is purple–blue or occasionally white, about a quarter inch across and 4 lobed with quite a long tube. Each has 2 stamens and a single pistil. Another very similar plant is Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) but culver’s root doesn’t grow naturally in New Hampshire.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) blooms in the tall grass of unmown meadows, usually in large colonies. This plant isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle but it does have small spines along the leaf margins and stem. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

I found this Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) in the tall grass from under a tree and was surprised to see it at two feet tall. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, but I saw a few this day. They also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do, and that’s a good means of identification. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful little faces in the sunny edges of the forest.

An irrigation system was put in a local park last year and a bed where Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) grew was completely dug up. Since that is the only place I’ve ever seen it I doubted I would see it again, but this year there must have been a dozen plants where before there were two. That tells me it must grow from root cuttings, much like phlox does. I was happy to see so many because it is rare here. When I saw photos of the flower I thought it would be as big as a tradescantia blossom but it is only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive because I’ve seen maybe 10 blossoms in 60+ years. I’d like to see more of them; I love that shade of blue.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun, so it has covered all the bases.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. They point down toward the soil so when you pull up on it you get a nasty surprise. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

Last year I found a place where quite a lot of Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) grew and I was surprised because it’s a plant that I’ve never seen anywhere before.  From what I’ve read it is not a true nettle, but instead is a member of the nightshade family. The flowers have five petals and are usually white or purple with yellow centers. There is a blue variant that resembles the tomato flower, which makes sense since tomatoes are also in the nightshade family. The flowers have no scent but the foliage has a certain odor that I find disagreeable.

Horse nettle’s stem and undersides of larger leaf veins are covered with spines and I can attest to their sharpness. It’s hard to grab it anywhere and I’ve been pricked by it several times just trying to turn a leaf over. This plant is native to our southern states, so why it is growing here is a mystery. It seems to like where it grows; there must be 30-40 plants growing there. I can see its spreading becoming a real problem.

You wouldn’t think that you’d get pricked by something that looks as soft and furry as motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) but the seedpods are actually quite sharp and prickly. The small furry white to light purple flowers are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form. I find it along roads and in fields.

Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) line the shores of the ponds and rivers along with blueberries, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the two apart. The flowers of maleberrry, though nearly the same shape and color, are about half the size of a blueberry flower and the shrub blooms about a month later. There are often berries on the blueberries before maleberrry blossoms.

Maleberry blossoms become small, hard brown 5 part seed capsules that persist on the plant, often for over a year. They make maleberrry very easy to identify, especially in spring; just look for the seed capsules and you’ll know it isn’t a blueberry. This is one of a very few plants which I can’t find a Native American use for, but I’d bet they had one.

Spreading dogbane’s (Apocynum androsaemifolium) bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger.

Spreading dogbane is toxic to both dogs and humans, but insects love it. It’s closely related to milkweeds and has milky sap like they do. Monarch butterflies drink the nectar but I rarely see one on them. Though it is an herbaceous perennial its growth habit makes it look like a 3 foot tall shrub. The Apocynum part of its scientific name means “away from dog.” Not only dogs but most other animals avoid it because of its toxic sap.

I really do hate to say it but goldenrod is blooming already. Is it happening earlier each year or is it my imagination? In any event for me no other flowers except maybe asters whisper so loudly of the coming fall. Actually I love fall, it’s what comes after that I’m not looking forward to. When I was a boy summer seemed to stretch on almost without end but now it seems to pass almost in the wink of an eye.

Summer has always been good to me, even the bittersweet end, with the slanted yellow light.
~Paul Monette

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It’s so hot and humid here right now my camera lenses fog up the minute I take them from the dry, cool air of the car into the jungle humid air outside. If there’s one thing that can destroy a camera it is condensation so I’ve put together another “Things I’ve seen” post using all the photos that didn’t fit in other blog posts. Ten years ago I had never seen a Luna moth but on the day I took the  photo above there must have been at least 8 of them on a white painted block wall where I work. These moths are big and easy to see and I’ve read that Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

Another moth I’ve never seen is this one. Until this year that is; now I’m seeing them everywhere. They’re relatively large as moths go and you would think they’d be easy to identify but I haven’t had much luck so far. I can picture it landing on a tree and disappearing completely.

I was told it was a sphinx moth and I think that’s accurate, but if you Google “sphinx moth with blue eyes on its hind wing you get the eyed hawk moth, but that one only lives in Europe and the U.K., so that can’t be it. But it really doesn’t matter. I just wanted you to see it and to see this view of it, which reminds me of a blue eyed baboon face. I’m guessing it might scare away a bird.

Long time readers of this blog know that I don’t “do” birds and insects because of colorblindness but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing and hearing them and trying to get photos of them to show you. My identification skills aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be when it comes to insects especially, but I think this dragonfly might be a slaty skimmer. It has a dark blue body that looks gray to me, and a black head. Females and juveniles are said to have a dark stripe down their backs so I’m assuming this must be a male. If I’m wrong I hope you’ll let me know, because I’m seeing lots of them right now.

I’m also seeing damselflies and this one landed right in front of me one morning, so I had to take its photo. Though I don’t see any blue I think it might be a blue tailed damselfly because of its other markings. The chances of being correct with my identification are vey slim however, so again I hope you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.

When I was a boy we called this foamy stuff on plant stems “snake spit,” but of course it isn’t any such thing. Instead it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. There’s no telling where a boy’s imagination might take him, but quite often the real story is even more amazing than the imagined one.

One rainy morning a bumblebee hid under a leaf to keep dry, but it wasn’t working.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, spring starts on the forest floor and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa,) which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just a few weeks ago.

Timothy grass (Phleum pretense) was brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began promoting cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720 and the grass has carried his name ever since.

If you happen to be a nature lover and not watching for flowering grasses you’re missing a big chunk of the beauty that nature has to offer. Timothy grass flowers from June until September and is noted for its cold and drought resistance. It’s an excellent hay crop for horses. Each tall flower head is filled with tiny florets, each one with three purple stamens and two wispy white stigmas. The flower heads often look purple when they are flowering.

I saw this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) growing in a local garden. Native to eastern Asia, these ferns often display hints of silver, blue and red on their stems and leaflets and their common name comes from the way they look like the colors have been painted on.  

I think, in the almost nine years I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to show you the red fruit of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) and that’s because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen. Why they left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I often see them looking that way. From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy but I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) have just started appearing, pushing up through the forest litter. They’re not mushrooms but they like dark forests and plenty of moisture just like mushrooms, so when I go mushroom hunting I usually find them as well. These plants slowly turn their single bell shaped flower from looking at the ground to looking straight up to the sky, and that is the sign that they’ve been pollinated. From then on they will turn brown as the spores ripen. They are also called ghost plants. Fresh stems contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that the Natives smoked.

I found a cluster of what I believe are resinous polypores (Ischnoderma resinosum) growing on a dying tree. The sharp eyed will notice that they’re in full sunshine. That might seem strange because everyone knows that mushrooms like to grow in deep shade, but what not everybody knows is how almost everything growing in a forest will get its moment in the sun, even if it is just a single shaft of sunlight falling on it for a few minutes at the end of the day. On this day I just happened to come along while these fungi were having their moment in the sun.  

The whitish underside of this mushroom will quickly turn brown if bruised, but these were pristine. Polypores get their name from the pores on their undersides. The pores are actually tubes where the spores are produced, and they are the fungi’s way of increasing the spore bearing surfaces. More surface area means more spores produced, and it’s always about the continuation of the species. The life force; the will to live, is strong in all living things and billions of spores ensure that there will be more resinous polypores.

One of the odd things about these particular example of resinous polypores were how they grew on a standing tree. The tree was close to dead but this fungus usually grows on recently fallen hard or softwood log, where it causes white rot that separates the annual rings in the wood. Though it often appears in summer another name is the late fall polypore.  Drops of a reddish brown liquid often appear on it in rainy weather, as this photo shows. Resinous polypores are considered edible but once again I’m not a mycologist and don’t have a microscope, so if you are going to eat this mushroom you should learn how to identify it from an expert.

Chocolate tube slime molds get their common name from their long brown sporangia, which stand at the top of thin black, horsehair like stalks. They typically grow in clusters on rotting wood and are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They are also called “pipe cleaner slime molds” or “tree hair.” There are thought to be about 18 species which can only be accurately identified with a microscope. Some can be quite long and look like sea anemones, but these examples were short; about a half inch long. They start life as a white plasmodial mass before becoming a cluster of small yellow bumps, and they in turn grow into what you see here. They do remind me of undersea coral.

In this photo you can see why chocolate tube slime mold is also called “tree hair.” The wiry black stalks do indeed look like horsehair.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on last year’s leaves. 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 can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here’s a closer look at a smaller version of the slime mold in the previous photo, which was on the same leaf. Science seems to think that slime molds have a limited intelligence, and that thought opens doors that I didn’t know existed.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

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As the 90+ degree heat and humidity of July takes hold I think of being near cool water and it’s hard to be near water in this part of New Hampshire without noticing all the beautiful flowers that live in and around our lakes, rivers and ponds. Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) Unless you happen to be in a kayak or canoe it’s all but impossible to get a shot of one from above, but this one was right at the shoreline of a small pond and it gave me a rare look at the beautiful golden flame that burns in the center of each one. They’re said to smell like honeydew melons, but I’ve never gotten close enough to one  to find out. I could have picked this one, but why would I?

A small sampling of what can often be very large colonies of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured above is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close. Though they must be full of pollen I can’t remember ever seeing an inset on one.

Bur reed stems twist and turn in odd configurations, and only they know why.  

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see a beautiful blue color. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The plant likes wet places and I find it near ponds and ditches.

Vervain flowers are quite small but there are usually so many blooming that they’re easy to spot. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into a flour or meal by some tribes, and the flowers were dried and used as snuff to treat nose bleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the European settlers and they used it in much the same ways.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated.

As their name implies swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. This plant is easy to identify; I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet. 

Swamp candle is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across.

It’s easy to see how arrowhead gets its name. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but usually grows just onshore. It is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming more difficult each year. 

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas,” but of course it can’t be bought, sold or traded here because it is a prohibited invasive species. The law says that “No person shall collect, transport, import, export, move, buy, sell, distribute, propagate or transplant any living and viable portion of any plant species, which includes all of their cultivars and varieties, listed on the New Hampshire prohibited invasive species list.” So, don’t even collet the seeds.  

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and can grow in great numbers when conditions are right. This rose, like many other water loving plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. 

How I wish I could find fields full of beautiful swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) but the truth is I only see one or two plants each year if I’m lucky. This is a flower that made me gasp the first time I saw it because it was so beautiful. It is not a flower from my childhood so it is relatively new to me and I think I could just sit and stare at it for hours. I wish I had some growing here at home.

Three years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. There was another one nearby but it was off in the swamp, all but inaccessible unless you wanted very wet feet. This year the plant beside the trail was gone and I felt my heart sink, but as I looked around I saw the other one still there, out in the swamp. Without even thinking I stumbled through the black, sucking muck  until I reached it, and these photos will hopefully show you why. It’s like seeing a bush full of beautiful purple butterflies and I still can’t believe I ever found such a thing.

How can anyone not want to fall on their knees before something as beautiful as this? To find yourself absorbed by it to the exclusion of everything else is to visit that place of deep peace from which all flowers come. Once you’ve been there you never forget it, and you’ll ache to return. Natural science writer Loren Eiseley also visited that place and explained: “The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.” Maybe that’s why I’m willing to wade through the mud of a swamp to see such a thing.

I came out of the swamp with mud up to my knees, but also with a smile on my face. I know that nature isn’t static; everything is changing constantly and I don’t usually have trouble accepting that fact, but the loss of something so rare and beautiful is painful, and even though I was happy to see this plant I was sorry to not find the other one. I’ve read that orchids can disappear and then suddenly reappear a year or even years later, so I’ll keep checking the spot. Hopefully it will come back and help beautify this earth as only it can.  

Of course, flowers aren’t the only things you’ll see near water.

A monk asks: Is there anything more miraculous than the wonders of nature?
The master answers: Yes, your awareness of the wonders of nature.
~Angelus Silesius

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