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Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey NH’

A bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) showed me how a bee’s pollen baskets can be filled with white pollen when it is foraging purple flowers. I’ve never seen so much pollen on a thistle blossom before.

A bee on another blossom showed me how the harvesting is done. The things I’ve learned from nature!

This pretty dark purple sedum grew in a local garden.

A beautiful datura blossom (Datura stramonium) was almost spotless. These blossoms are big; probably three and a half inches across and nearly twice as long. The plant is also called Jimson weed. It is in the nightshade family and all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and livestock. There is a bicolor purple and white variety that is very beautiful. If you’ve got the space, it makes quite a statement.

Spiky Datura seedpods are bigger than a ping pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball, if that tells you anything. They are also called thorn apples. Taken in small enough doses Datura is hallucinogenic, as British soldiers found out when they included Jimsonweed leaves in salad in Jamestown, Virginia in 1676. They were high for 11 days and had to be penned up to prevent them from hurting themselves. When the symptoms wore off, they remembered nothing. You can read about the incident by clicking here.

Downy goldenrod (Solidago puberula) is an unusual member of the family, with its single vertical stalk of flowers. They reach about a foot and a half tall on a good day, but some books say they will reach 3 feet. The narrow, stalked flower heads (panicles) grow on plants that live at the edges of forests in dry sandy soil, often in colonies of 15-20 plants.

The bright yellow 1/4-inch flowers of downy goldenrod seem big when compared to other goldenrod flowers. Native Americans used goldenrod for treating colds and toothaches and it has been used for centuries in to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In colonial times goldenrod growing naturally by the cottage door meant good fortune.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) likes the same dry, sandy conditions that downy goldenrod likes and they can often be found growing side by side. They also have the same single stalk growth habit. Silverrod is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over.

As silverrod’s flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

Burdock (Arctium minus) is having a banner year. I’ve never seen so many flowers on these plants and they just keep blooming on and on. I’d say they must like lots of water. If I was ten again what wars I could have with the other neighborhood boys. We used to go home with them stuck all over us sometimes.

Because the sun was behind it, I had to overexpose this sunflower to get a half decent shot of it. Since its the only one I’ve seen this year it’ll have to do.

Another sunflower’s head was so heavy it had broken off and I was first drawn to it and then drawn into it. It is micro worlds like this that have helped me realize that I don’t need to know or to understand a single thing to see that everything is beautiful. Everything on this planet has a beauty of its own. We’re absolutely swimming in it.

I’ve never been that interested in begonias, though some are truly stunning. The frilly yellow centers on these flowers are what caught my eye. Some begonias make great house plants and some of them used to have a place in my indoor jungle. And it was a jungle; I used to half jokingly tell friends to bring a machete when they came over.

Mallow (Malvaceae) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. So far this is the only plant in flower that I’ve seen. It’s a very pretty flower that looks familiar to many people who have never seen it. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon, and I’d guess that’s why mallow looks so familiar.

I was surprised to find this pink spirea blooming in a local garden but it had been sheared, so maybe that’s why it was blooming so late. The bees were certainly happy to see it.

This year for the first time I’ve seen Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) blooming every single month, from March until now. I always thought they were strictly a cool weather plant but apparently not. Maybe lots of rain has more to do with it.

The fisherman you see in this shot saw me taking photos of these flowers and walked around me right into the frame, so hello world, here he is. Not too long after I took this shot, he caught an 8 or 9 inch pickerel in this pond and it proved to me that pickerel weed is indeed named after the pickerel fish, because the fish he caught was hiding in the pickerel weeds just like the legend says they do. That fish had some sharp looking teeth on it and the fisherman had quite a time getting his hook free, otherwise I would have shown you a photo of it. He told me that I had brought him luck.

I’ve watched catchfly (Silene armeria) go from a single plant to what is now a small colony of about 6 or 7 in 5 years or so, so it could hardly be called invasive, even though it is from Europe. It is also called sweet William catchfly and is said to be an old-fashioned garden plant in Europe. The name catchfly comes from the sticky sap it produces along its stem. It’s a very pretty little plant. I like its smooth, bluish green stem and leaves.

Purple loosestrife and goldenrod fought for a place in the sun. I know which will win; this will be a sea of nothing but purple in just a few years’ time.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have appeared so fall is definitely knocking on the door. These lighter colored ones always appear before the dark purple ones that I like so much. This one had what looks like a little hoverfly visiting.

And this one had a much bigger insect visiting. I think it might be a solitary wasp, possibly a potter wasp (Ancistrocerus antilope)?

I found this dark colored aster in a garden. It looked to be just waking up and unfurling its petals. Just as I was finishing this post I saw one of our native asters that was this color, so they’ll be coming along soon.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

Thanks for coming by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for coming by.

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We had lots of rain here in July; well over a foot in some places but luckily no serious flooding as of this writing. Since it’s raining hard as I write this near the end of the month though, that could change.

I’ve been lucky because on most of the days that I’ve had a chance to get into the woods, it hasn’t been raining. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been wet though. Most of the grasses and undergrowth have looked like what you see in the above photo for quite a while now, and many lawns have standing water on them because the ground is so saturated the water has nowhere to go.

The rains have made many moths and other insects seek shelter under the eaves of buildings, and that’s where this one was one morning when I arrived at work. I think it might be one of the underwing (Catocala) moths, so called because when they spread their upper wings their underwings show a flash of color, but I haven’t been able to satisfactorily identify it. They have names like “charming underwing,” “girlfriend underwing,” “betrothed underwing,” and “bride underwing,” so it sounds like whoever named them had something other than moths on their mind at the time.

I often see moths resting on leaves during the day and that’s what this pretty one was doing when it caught my eye. I think it might be a large lace border moth (Scopula limboundata,) which is found only east of the Rocky Mountains. From what I’ve seen online wing colors and patterns can vary considerably on this moth. Their caterpillars are a type of inchworm that feeds on clover, blueberry, apple, and black cherry.

Early one windy morning I saw this dragonfly hanging on to a blueberry leaf, blowing in the wind like a flag. That’s why I think it’s one of the pennant dragonflies. Maybe a calico pennant. It wasn’t the least bit spooked by me and just kept hanging on as I took photos. I wish they were all so willing.

Note: A knowledgeable reader who knows much more about dragonflies than I do tells me that this may be a female banded pennant dragonfly. Thanks Mike!

Widow skimmers don’t seem to stay still very long. This one flew off and returned to its perch several times before I was able to get a decent shot of it. It wasn’t the shot I was hoping for but it does show off this dragonfly’s beautiful wings.

Slaty skimmers are another beautiful dragonfly. I think this is a mature male, which are dark blue with black heads. Females and juveniles look quite different, with brownish bodies and a dark stripe down their backs. These large dragonflies are fairly common here and can usually be found on pond shorelines.

What I believe is a Mayfly hung onto the wall of a building where I work. It was under the eaves, probably trying to get out of the rain. Mayflies are very interesting creatures that can be seen anytime in summer, not just in May. From what I’ve read they are part of an ancient group of insects that includes dragonflies and Damselflies. People have been fascinated by them for a very long time; Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote about them. Adults, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, do not eat. Their sole function is reproduction, so I’d guess that maybe this adult male was just hanging out, waiting for his mate to come along.

Banded net wing beetles also waited under the eaves of another building, but they were still getting wet. At first, I thought this was just one beetle but I couldn’t figure out why it had its wings spread so wide until I saw the photo. There are actually 3 beetles here. Two are hiding under the wings of the first, possibly mating? Males are smaller than the females but these three looked to all be about the same size to me. These beetles contain defensive chemicals and most birds and spiders leave them alone. They feed on plant juices or sometimes other insects.

Japanese beetles cause a lot of damage to plants but they aren’t very remarkable otherwise. They’re common and fairly easy to control, even by hand picking. But this one surprised me by turning into a lion.

The beetle turned, lifted its hind legs, and roared. Or at least I thought that when I saw this photo on the camera’s screen. It looked like the beetle had opened its big mouth and roared at me, but then I thought wait a minute, beetles don’t have big mouths. It was a trick of the light, with the bright sunlight shining on the beetle’s “snout” or nose, or whatever it is called. I had to laugh at my own foolishness.

A white crab spider hung upside down among the blossoms of a swamp milkweed, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed by any visiting insects. Crab spiders can change color from white to either yellow or pink but it takes anywhere from 2 to 21 days. They’re very patient little things and if you pay attention creatures like spiders, great blue herons, frogs, and many other creatures will teach you all about what it means to be truly patient.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I saw this great egret wading through a flooded cornfield. Usually when I see things like this I don’t have the right camera with me, but on this day I had it. Without a thought I slammed on my brakes, jumped out and started shooting, so it was a good thing there was nobody behind me. I’ve really got to stop doing that.

I’ve been wanting to see an egret my whole life and never had, even when I lived in Florida, so this beautiful bird was an exciting find. I looked up how to tell which egret you were seeing and from what I read the orange bill and black legs mean it’s a great egret. It looked to be about the size of a great blue heron, but it was quite far across a cornfield so that might not be correct. We’d had quite a storm the night before and I wondered if maybe it had been blown off course. It kept pecking at the ground so it was apparently seeing plenty of food.

I didn’t find any egret feathers but I’ve seen plenty of turkey feathers. We have lots of turkeys around and I’m always seeing feathers but not usually tail feathers like this one.

I found this feather hanging from a grass stalk, gently twisting in the breeze. Google lens has said repeatedly that it is from a long-eared owl but I have a hard time believing it because, though we do have long eared owls here they’re exceedingly rare and are hardly ever seen. On the other hand, I’ve read that they nest in the woods near open fields where they like to hunt, and that was the type of terrain I found it in. I’m hoping some knowledgeable reader might be able to sort it out.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call an electric blue. They don’t seem to be doing very well this year though; this is the only berry I’ve seen. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. These plants are toxic so no part of them should ever be eaten. Luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow.

Red or purple trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods turn bright red in late summer, but few people ever seem to see them. Trilliums are all about the number three or multiples of it, and the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Tiny starflower seedpods (Trientalis borealis) look a bit like soccer balls. They’re very small so you often have to look at the plant’s leaves to find them. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

This photo from a few years ago gives a good idea of how small a starflower seed pod really is; about as big as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. They’re a challenge to get a good shot of.

Witch hazel gall aphids (Hormaphis hamamelidis) have been doing their work. These cone shaped galls are where the gall aphids grow and reproduce. When they’re ready they leave the gall and fly off to find birch trees. The young aphids feed on birch leaves until they give birth to nymphs, which develop wings and fly back to witch hazels, where the process begins again.

The galls are called nipple galls or cone heads and each year, usually around Halloween, they turn black and look like witch hats. For some reason this one was early.

I went to see if I could get some shots of goldenrod flowers and instead found dodder attacking the goldenrod plants. Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

In this photo from 2013, if you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem (haustoria) has burrowed into a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods. One of its favorite hosts seems to be goldenrod.

Here is a close look at the dodder’s flowers. They’re among the smallest I’ve ever photographed but I’d guess that they produce plenty of seeds.

While I was getting photos of the dodder, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and it turned out to be 3 monarch butterflies flying around some milkweed plants. Of course, they all flew away when I walked over but this one returned and hid under a leaf. I’ve seen quite a few monarchs this year but most have been wary and hard to get good shots of.

I saw more monarchs on some hyssop plants and I tried and tried to get a photo of their open wings, but this was the best I could do. They were almost all the way open.

I ended up with most shots looking like this one but with wings open or closed they are still very beautiful things. Hyssop is a very pretty plant that would be happy in any garden and it would attract butterflies too, so it isn’t hard to do something to help these creatures survive. There are many ways in fact, and a helpful reader was kind enough to send me some information on how we can help monarchs and many other insects simply, with no real effort other than putting some thought into which plants we select for our gardens. If you’re interested you can find a wealth of information by clicking this link: https://homegrownnationalpark.org/faq

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller 

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but there are just so many beautiful things to see out there. I do hope that you’re seeing as many of them as I am.

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Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata,) another sign of summer’s passing, have come into bloom. Some of these flowers can be extremely fragrant and they’re a valuable addition to any garden. A walk along a garden border full of fragrant phlox on a summer evening is something you probably won’t ever forget. Many people think of English gardens when they think of phlox but this is actually a native plant with a range from New York to Mississippi.

Another sign of summer’s passing comes in the form of eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but many people miss seeing these ankle tall plants full of tiny but very beautiful blue flowers. They bloom in the morning and each flower only blooms for one day before falling off the plant. Its common name comes from its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on the flower’s lower lip. It’s one of our prettiest mid summer natives and is worth getting down on your hands and knees to see. It likes poor, sandy soil like that found along roadsides, and that’s where I found this one.

One of the oddest plants you’ll meet at the end of July is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) Odd because it was introduced from Europe and of course almost immediately escaped gardens and is now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. According to the USDA it was first found in the wild in North America near Syracuse, New York, in 1878 and has now spread to 31 states. I see only a few plants each year and they’re usually growing in shade but in some areas they come up in lawns. They stand about knee high, but they can get taller with more light. The leaves, though smaller, closely resemble those found on false hellebore and the name helleborine in Latin means “like hellebore.” That’s another oddity about this plant; neither false hellebore leaves nor the leaves of this orchid look at all like hellebore leaves.

A third oddity about broad leaved helleborine orchids is how two plants growing side by side (it is said from the same bulbous root) can have different color flowers. The flowers, maybe slightly bigger than a pencil eraser, can be green with a hint of purple, or purple with a hint of green, as these examples were. In fact, this year the flowers have more purple in them than I’ve seen.  

The fourth and oddest oddity about this plant in my opinion, is how scientists have discovered that its 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 one flower’s pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the intoxicating orchid for the buzz.

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. Once the flowers go by (as this example was) 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.

Here is a fresh buttonbush flower head. Each small white flower is relatively long and trumpet shaped, with 4 short stamens and a single, long white style that is longer than the flower’s corolla, and that’s what makes them look like pincushions. Buttonbush is said to be poisonous to animals but beavers have been seen taking the wood. Whether for food or for the construction of their dams and lodges isn’t known.

One of the things that surprises me most about burdock (Arctium minus) is how, even though it grew everywhere when I was a boy and we used to throw the burs at each other, I never saw the flowers until I became an adult. I suppose my priorities changed; back then there was nothing more fun than covering your friends in the sticky burs. 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. When fully open long white styles grow from the often darker purple anthers, which form a type of sheath around it. Burdock must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact, it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. 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.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is also called false violet because of its leaves, and I think the resemblance might be part of why a lot of people never see it. Its small white flowers dot the forest floor like so many other small white flowers, and that also makes it easy to pass by with just a glance. Though I know of two colonies of them they are rare here, and are endangered or threatened in many other states.

Dewdrops have a secret; they produce flowers other than the ones we see. The hidden flowers don’t open but still produce seeds. They are called cleistogamous flowers and grow down beneath the leaves. The showy flowers like the ones in the photo are mostly sterile. In plants like hobblebush these bigger, showier, sterile flowers are used to attract insects to the smaller, less showy fertile flowers but I doubt that it works that way on dewdrops, because cleistogamous flowers are self fertile and don’t need insects to pollinate them. So why are the bigger, showier flowers even there? Maybe they’re just another way that nature expresses itself. Maybe all of creation rejoices when they come into bloom. Maybe that’s true of all flowers. Maybe it’s true of all life.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. Another common name for this plant is bouncing Bet. I’ve heard several stories about how this name came about but I like the one that claims that the curved petals catch the breeze and make the plant bounce back and forth in the wind. The flowers are very fragrant.

Bee balm (Monarda) is a native plant that is seen more in gardens than in the wild in this region. It is also called Oswego tea and bergamot. Many Native American tribes used this plant medicinally and a tea made from it can still be found in many stores. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew. It isn’t doing well here this year. The plants I’ve seen this year don’t have mildew but still seem weak and the flowers are small.

There are more than 43 different species of liatris so I’m never sure which one I’m seeing but I do know that though it is a native plant I’ve only found it outside of a garden just once in this area.  It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. I think it would be more striking planted in drifts rather than the one or two plants spotted here and there that I see. Native Americans baked and ate the roots of the plant; they are said to taste like carrots. Other parts of the plant were used medicinally to treat heart ailments.

When you take a close look at the flowers the plant’s other common name, blazing star, comes to mind. It is grown commercially as a cut flower, so you might have seen it in an arrangement.

The beautiful blue of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is hard to match in a garden. I and my color finding software see blue but some call it purple so if you see purple that’s fine. The plant is an Asian native with a common name that comes from its buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. In nature it grows on hillsides and in meadows. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. 5 white anthers surround a central stye that becomes 5 lobed as the flower ages. This example hadn’t been open long.

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) is in the ginseng family but its flowers are hard to mistake for those of ginseng. In fact, the entire plant isn’t easily confused with any other natives because of its bristly lower stems and foul odor. The plant can reach 3 feet tall but its weak stems give it a sprawling habit in the shade.  I almost always find it growing in dry gravel under pine trees at forest edges. Medicinally, the dried bark can be used in place of sarsaparilla. This plant is also called dwarf elder, wild elder, or angelica tree. Its leaves look nothing like those of wild sarsaparilla. Its fruit changes from green to dark blue and finally to black.

Bristly sarsaparilla is listed by the USDA as endangered in many states. The stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. The lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter, so technically it is considered a shrub. Each small, 1/8-inch flower sits at the end of a long stalk. They have 5 white petals that almost always curl back away from the center. 5 white stamens surround a central shorter style. I almost always see black ants swarming all over the flower heads of this plant but on this day there were only one or two.

Though when I was a boy hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flowers were always pure white, I’m having a harder time finding white ones these days. Now most of them seem to be bicolor pink and white and I’m not sure why, other than natural selection. It could be that insects are more attracted to the bicolor flowers, which means that they have a higher probability of pollination and seed production. I took this photo because the flowers looked white to me but then when I saw them in a photo I thought I could see a blush of pale pink here and there.

I found a garden variety yarrow (Achillea) that I haven’t seen before. Its color was eye catching. Many tiny flowers packed together make up a yarrow flowerhead and this plant showed that off beautifully.

NOTE: A reader wrote in to say they were quite sure this plant is a cultivar called ‘New Vintage Violet’. Thank you!

I knew this plant was a hydrangea but it didn’t look like any hydrangea I had ever seen. It was like a lacecap, but not entirely. The colors were unusual and seemed to be several different shades all at once. Then I realized that I had been out of the professional gardening game for quite a long time. This was the tea of heaven hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata,) also called sawtooth hydrangea or blood on snow. It is a hybrid and I haven’t kept up with newer developments; my subscriptions to garden catalogs and horticultural magazines ran out long ago. But none of that matters; its beauty is what caught my eye and I thought it might catch yours as well. By the way, the leaves contain a natural sweetener called Phyllodulcin and they are used to make tea in some Asian countries. That’s where the name tea of heaven comes from. As for the name blood on snow, we’ll leave that for another post.

Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had me going around in circles for a while because the USDA said it didn’t grow here, but what I wasn’t picking up on for some reason on was that this plant grows in a garden here, and not in nature. It was obviously in the mallow family like hollyhocks but the small, quarter size flowers were unusual in my experience. Then the helpers came to the rescue, and that’s why I’m adding this plant to this post; I should never forget to thank the many people who write in to help with identifications. They do it quietly, often in the background unknown by readers, but they are an important part of this blog and I’m very fortunate to have them there, waiting for me to get tangled up. So thank you, one and all. I do appreciate your help.

I’ll end this post with this peachy daylily, for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely beautiful.

Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom. They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.  ~Jim Carrey

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1. Trail

We haven’t had very many warm sunny days here this spring so when we do I try to make the best of them.  On one recent beautiful spring day I decided to climb Hewes Hill in Swanzey. A 40 ton glacial erratic sits on top of the hill along with some toadskin lichen friends that I like to visit occasionally.

2. Snowy Woods

The woods and the trail were snow covered by about 6 inches of snow but in the shade the crust was strong enough to walk on, so it was almost like walking on pavement.

3. Snow Melt

The snow had melted away from every tree trunk. I showed this in a post I did recently and several of us agreed that this must be caused by the sun heating up the tree bark which, if you really think about it, is pretty amazing.

4. Oak Leaf

This eastern hemlock caught an oak leaf and didn’t want to let go.

Hemlock Wound

According to the book Bark by Michael Wojtech, eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeastern U.S. that produces wound tissue (cork) in annual rings that can be counted like rings of wood. I counted about 21 years that it took this wound to heal. But my question has always been, how do trees out in the middle of nowhere, away from human activity, get these wounds in the first place?

6. Deer Print

Deer are smart animals. They let humans do the work of breaking trails through the snow and then packing it down, and then they just follow along.

7. Sign

Before too long you see the sign that “captain obvious” must have put up.

8. Tippin Rock

I say that because there aren’t many rocks this big in the immediate vicinity. In fact there aren’t any. For those new to the blog, this glacial erratic gets its name from the way it rocks (tips) back and forth if you push it in the right place. I’ve never been able to move it but I’ve talked with someone who saw a group of kids all stand on one end to make it move. If you look closely at the underside you can see that it comes down to a point like the keel of a boat.

When you think of all that had to happen for a glacier to set a 40 ton boulder down on the single flat piece of rock on a hilltop in New Hampshire so it would be perfectly balanced it becomes close to impossible to believe, but there it is.

9. Crack in Rock

Something I never noticed before was this large crack that runs from top to bottom of the rock on one side. It doesn’t go all the way through though, so I don’t think tippin rock is in any danger of cleaving itself in two.

10. Ledge Ice

There are some good views up here but you can’t see them from tippin rock. To get to the ledges where the views are you have to walk another 10 minutes or so through the woods past a lot of stone outcrops that still have a lot of ice on them. The trail itself was very icy on this section as well.

11. Rest Spot

There were some dry spots to sit and catch your breath or to just listen to the forest. The birds were singing happily this day.

12. View

Since the views look off to the south southwest, afternoon is not the time to come up here and take photos, but I always try anyway. There is something about this place; it’s peaceful energy maybe, which is different than all the other hills I climb. It makes me feel like just being here is what’s really important, and that the photos don’t really matter. Though I’ve never really gotten a good photo from up here, neither have I ever come away feeling disappointed.

13. View

It was so sunny and warm up here that it felt like summer and not spring was right around the corner. I could have sat here for days.

14. Toad Skin Lichen

Though the views are beautiful  they are really secondary to my real quest, which are the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) I’ve found them only on hilltops so being able to see them always comes with a price. This one was reddish orange, which is a color I’ve never seen among them. I thought that it could have come from an algae coating, which is common among some lichens, but the book Lichens of North America says that it is a pruinose coating similar to that on plums and grapes, but red instead of white.  I never knew a pruinose coating could be anything but white.

Toadskin lichens are umbilicate lichens, meaning they attach to the substrate at a single point, and that point can be clearly seen in the upper third of this example. This lichen was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch.

15. Toad Skin Lichen

These toadskin lichens are pea green when they’re wet, and when they dry out turn ashy gray to almost white. This one was very dry and crisp but I chose this photo because the lichen’s fruiting bodies (apothecia) are so easily seen. They look like tiny black dots scattered over the surface. The bumps that look like the warts on a toad are called pustules, and they look like indentations from the underside.

16. Toad Skin Lichen

This close up shows a better view of the toadskin lichen’s apothecia, which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just look a little closer.

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 with everything. ~Alan watts

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We’ve had all kinds of weather extremes here lately, from heat and humidity to torrential rains, so I’ve been spending time at the Ashuelot River. The banks of the river are always cooler when it’s hot and after heavy rains the rapids really get rolling, and I like to watch them.  Since I spend so much time here and so many of my photos are taken here, I thought I’d do a post with a little background information of the area.

1. Ashuelot Rapids

This stretch of river is easy to get to and there are many good photo opportunities here-from the rapids to the many wildflowers that grow on the river banks. There are 4 small rapids that were built when a 250 year old timber crib dam was removed in 2010. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services created the rapids by laying very large boulders side to side across the riverbed in a crescent shape.

2. Swanzey Dam Removal

The timber crib dam was owned by the Homestead Woolen Mill, which is the large brick building in the background. The dam was built in revolutionary war times to power the mill, which in its heyday made many different kinds of textiles. Removing this dam opened up 20 miles of river and now brook and rainbow trout are caught here regularly. Salmon have also been caught and someone said they saw an eagle this spring.

Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Division of Habitat Conservation, Open Rivers Initiative.

3. Ashuelot Rapids

When we’ve had a lot of rain if you stand in the right spot at the right rapid, you can see some fine waves. Since there are a few seconds of delay between when you press the shutter release and when the wave crests, getting shots of waves cresting and crashing is really hit and miss. Every time I try to anticipate what the river will do it does just the opposite, and that’s what makes trying to get a shot I’m happy with so much fun.

 4. Riverside

This view is looking downriver at two of the rapids and the shoreline that floods regularly, but where many wildflowers grow.

5. Thompson Bridge

 Slightly upriver from the rapids is the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. This bridge is a truss style bridge with two spans that meet on a center support. One span covers 64 feet and the other 63.5 feet, making the total length 136 feet 10 inches long. It once had two covered walkways, but now has only one on the upriver side. It can be seen on the left in the photo. The bridge is so close to the mill building that I had my back against it when I took this photo. Town records indicate that there has been a bridge in this spot since at least 1789.

 6. Thompson Bridge

This view of the bridge shows the covered walkway. At the far end is where I perch to take many of the river photos that appear on this blog. The covered walkway comes in handy when it’s raining. Many wildflowers grow on the steep embankment on this side of the river, just below where I was standing when I took this photo.

7. Thompson Bridge

This view from downriver shows the stone center support for the two spans. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England.

 8. Thompson Bridge

The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like.  In the 1800s being able to see this much light inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town.

 9. Ashuelot Jetty 2

At the same time that the old dam was being removed stone jetties were built upriver from the bridge to protect its abutments. These jetties, one on each side of the bridge, direct the strength of the current and prevent erosion of the abutments at each end of the bridge. If you look closely at the white water at the far end of the jetty you can see the ripples of the current flowing in towards the middle of the river.

10. Ashuelot Wildflowers

This view from the bridge shows just a few of the wildflowers that grow on the river bank near the jetty in the previous photo. The town of Swanzey is planning on building a park in this area so the future of these plants is unknown at present. I thought the lupines growing here were our endangered wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) but after going back and counting leaflets and looking for leaf hairs, now I’m not so sure that they aren’t a natural hybrid. I’m hoping I can save some of their seeds and grow them in my own yard and get to know them a little better.

11. Clouds Over the Ashuelot

Flowers, rapids, and solitude aren’t the only reasons I come to this part of the river. The view downriver from the bridge is wide open and you can catch an occasional beautiful sunset here. I also like to come here to watch storms roll in.

12. Lori's Painting

 Local artist Lori Woodward was also taken with the view from the Thompson Bridge and did this painting from one of the photos that she saw on this blog. There is an upcoming exhibit of paintings and photos of the Ashuelot River at the Cheshire County Historical Society and this painting will be part of it. Lori works in acrylic, watercolors and oils. If you’re an art lover interested in collecting fine art, or just like looking at beautiful landscape paintings, you can visit Lori’s website by clicking here.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known. ~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

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