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Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Woodruff’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I thought I’d start this flower post where I left off in the last one and show you pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in full bloom. I’m so glad that this native orchid is making a comeback after being collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will die if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be. They’re one of our most beautiful native orchids and everyone should have a chance to see them.

Botanically orchids are considered the most highly evolved of all flowering plants because of their unique reproductive strategy; they have both male and female reproductive structures fused into a single structure. Many different insects pollinate orchids but in lady’s slippers bees do the job. They enter the flower through the center slit in the pouch, which can be seen here. Once inside they discover that they’re trapped and can’t get out the way they came in.

There is only one way out for a bee trapped in a lady’s slipper blossom; guide hairs inside the flower point the way to the top of the pouch or slipper, and once the bee reaches the top it finds two holes big enough to fit through. Just above each hole the flower has positioned a pollen packet so once the bee crawls through the hole it is dusted with pollen. The flower’s stigma is also located above the exit holes and if the bee carries pollen from another lady’s slipper it will be deposited on the sticky stigma as it escapes the pouch, and fertilization will have been successful. Isn’t evolution amazing?

At a glance the leaves of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) are often mistaken for those of lady’s slippers, but lady’s slipper leaves are deeply pleated and blue bead lily leaves are not, they’re smooth like those seen here. The two plants like the same conditions and often grow side by side.

It’s easy to see that blue bead lilies are in the lily family; they look just like small Canada lilies. I like seeing both the flowers and the blue berries that follow them. It’s been described as porcelain blue but it’s hard to put a name to it. I call it electric blue and I really can’t think of another blue to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

For years I’ve heard of a very special place up in the woods of Westmoreland where endangered orchids, squawroot, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, maiden hair fern and other plants that love a lot of lime in the soil grow, so over Memorial day my daughter and I decided to pay this special place a visit. The terrain was rough, with climbs so steep you had to use ropes tied to trees to pull yourself along, but we made it through and didn’t see a single plant that was supposed to grow there. I did see a hepatica leaf, but that was about it. My daughter found this beautiful long spurred violet in bloom (Viola rostrata); the first example I’ve seen, but it isn’t even mentioned in the list of plants that are supposed to grow here.

This is a pretty little violet but I doubt I’d go through what we went through to see it again.

We also found a yellow violet just opening. This was only the second time I had ever seen one. I think it was a round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. It might have also been a downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions.

Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer. Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

A close look at a chokecherry blossom.

Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid to late May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

From above the flowers of eastern larch look like a rose, but at less than the diameter of a pea they are far less showy. Each beautiful little flower will become a small brown cone.

The waxy shine on the petals of a buttercup (Ranunculus) is caused by a layer of mirror flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. These layers act together to reflect yellow light, while blue green light is absorbed. Though the shine is easy to see it’s quite hard to capture with a camera. I’ve been trying since they started opening and I’d bet I had to try 10-20 times before getting it right.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happens to be a phlox plant or two growing near the dame’s rocket and I thought it was good chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

The yellow flowers seen in the first photo of Dame’s rocket are those of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus.) Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles. If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but I’ve seen them with 5. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it.

Friends of mine grow this beautiful clematis in their garden. This is the first blossom of the summer, just opening when I took its photo.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, much like an Indian cucumber root. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned ground cover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe. I don’t see it often and I’d call it rare in this area.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

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If I’m seeing our beautiful native blue flag irises it must be June. And this year I’m seeing them everywhere, so it must be a great year for them. The name flag is from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed, and which I assume applies to the cattail like leaves of an iris.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing its best to just admire this one.  It’s an easy thing to admire.

Our meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom and the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. I have volunteers growing in my lawn and I mow around them. They’re too beautiful to just cut down.

In 2015 the highway department replaced a bridge over the Ashuelot River and widened the road leading to and from it. They put what I thought was grass seed down on the roadsides once the bridge was finished, but it was wildflower / grass seed mix containing lupines (Lupinus.) For a couple of years they were growing all along the sides of the road but this year there are just a few. That could be because they are an aphid magnet and I saw many in this colony covered with the sucking insects. I’ve always loved lupines and I’m always happy to see them come into bloom. I hope they survive in this spot.

The lupines come in light and dark shades in this spot, but they also come in pink, white, red, and even yellow.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It like disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria, part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

I find purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

I’ve told this story many times but I’ll tell it once more for the more recent readers: When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Maine railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father. I’m sure everyone has plants that come with memories attached, and this is just one of mine.

Though my color finding software sees some purple in the previous tradescantia photo I think it was just the play of light on its petals. This one is the real purple one. I don’t know its name but it grows in a local park. It’s pretty but my favorite is the blue one.

I don’t think I could imagine more beautiful colors and shapes in a flower than those found on the perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a local park.

Dogwood (Cornus) blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. They have just come into bloom.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Can you see the resemblance to the dogwood blossom we just saw?  Just like that dogwood the large (relatively) white bracts of bunchberry surround the actual flowers, which are greenish and very small. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries which give it its common name.  Even the plant’s leaves show the same veining as the dogwood tree. 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.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is an imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas.

I know that I just showed blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) in my last flower post but I saw this quite large clump of them the other day and couldn’t resist a photo of it. It’s a very beautiful little flower.

When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia) growing in it but now I hardly see them. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because you never see them at newer houses.

In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty, if only we have the eyes to see them. John Ruskin

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If our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) are blossoming it must be June. The name flag comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. Though Native Americans used this plant medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic.

Another flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare.) I was married in June and because we couldn’t afford flowers from the florist we picked hundreds of Ox eye daisies. They wilted quickly and looked much better in the meadow than in a vase, and I don’t think I’ve ever picked one since. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. I always like to see their spiraled centers.

Here in this part of the state we see more mountain ash trees (Sorbus americana) in gardens than we do in nature but they are out there and they’re easiest to find when they’re in full bloom like this one was. The white blossoms, showy orange berries and small size are what have made this tree a good choice for parks and gardens since 1811. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know. Native Americans dried and ground the berries of the tree for use in soups and stews. There is a European cousin of this tree called rowan (Sorbus aucuparia.)

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that are very easy to grow.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They light up the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. It is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed, but there are over 50 different chickweeds. The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. You can always tell where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. Toadflax flowers have an upper lip that is divided into 2 rounded lobes, and a lower lip which is divided into 3 lobes that are rounded and spreading. Blue toadflax was introduced in Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison but I’ve never tried it.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) was imported for cultivation from Japan in 1830 and is now one of the most invasive shrubs we have. It’s a plant that’s hard to hate though, because its berries are delicious and their content of lycopene is 7 to 17 times higher than tomatoes. Also, the pale yellow flowers are extremely fragrant just when lilacs finish blooming. It is a very vigorous shrub that is hard to eradicate; birds love its berries and spread it far and wide. Its sale is prohibited in New Hampshire but that will do little good now that it grows along forest edges almost everywhere you look. Autumn olive was originally introduced for landscaping, road bank stabilization and wildlife food.

When I was just a young boy living with my father I decided that our yard needed a facelift. We had a beautiful cabbage rose hedge and a white lilac, and a Lorelai bearded iris that my mother planted before she died but I wanted more. I used to walk the Boston and Main railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house and I’d see these beautiful blue flowers growing along the tracks, so one day I dug one up and planted it in the yard. My father was quiet until I had planted 3 or 4 of them, and then he finally asked me why I was bringing home those “dammed old weeds.” He also walked the tracks to get to work and back, so he saw the tradescantia (Tradescantia virginiana) plants just as often as I did. Though I thought they were lost and needed to be rescued, he thought somebody threw them away and wished they’d have thrown them just a little farther. We had blue flowers in the yard for a while though, and today every time I see this plant I think of my father.

Plant breeders have been working on tradescantia; I find this purple flowered one in a local park. Interesting but I like the blue that I grew up with best. Bees, especially bumblebees, seem to like this one best though. Why, I don’t know.

We have several invasive shrubby honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. They were originally introduced in the late 1800s as ornamentals but escaped gardens and can now be seen just about anywhere. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate.

I think this particular honeysuckle might have been Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella,) which is a hybrid between Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica.) It has white or pink flowers that turn yellow as they age and are very fragrant.

Friends of mine grow alliums in their garden and every time I see them I wonder why I never grew them. It wasn’t just me though; nobody I gardened for grew them either. It’s another one of those plants like hellebore that people didn’t seem to want, but I like them both.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years. It is also called sweet scented bedstraw and is a native of Europe.

Our meadows and roadsides are just coming into bloom and the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo was found at the edge of a meadow. It might look like its cousin the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta. This pink one was somewhere in the middle. I was happy to see some growing in my lawn when I mowed it earlier, so I’ll mow around them.

After trying to photograph speedwell flowers that are one step above microscopic I found that the germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seemed gigantic in comparison because of its 3/16 to 1/4 inch flowers. It’s also called bird’s eye speedwell and is another plant introduced from Europe and Asia. It has the strange habit of wilting almost as soon as it is picked, so it isn’t any good for floral arrangements. Like all the speedwells I’ve seen it has one lower petal smaller than the other three. Speedwell is very common in lawns but I don’t see too much of this one.

Speedwell, as far as I know, has always been considered a weed here in New Hampshire but here were these nice little compact, mounded plants growing in the planting beds at a local park. They were very pretty little things with their blue striped flowers against the dark green leaves but I have to wonder if they’re weedy. I’ve tried to find out more about them online but didn’t have any luck at all. They look very much like the germander speedwell but the flowers aren’t as blue.

Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) is a native of Europe and Asia that loves it here and has spread far and wide. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States the vining plant is present in every U.S. state. Cow vetch can have a taproot nearly a foot long and drops large numbers of seeds, so it is hard to eradicate. It is very similar to hairy vetch, but that plant has hairy stems. I like its color and it’s nice to see it sprinkled here and there among the tall grasses but it can be a real problem in gardens.

There was a time when all red clover (Trifolium pretense) plants meant to me was more hard work. I didn’t like having to weed it out of lawns and garden beds but it was so unsightly with its long, weak flower stems and sprawling, weedy habit. And then one evening a single ray of sunshine came through the clouds and fell directly on a red clover plant at the edge of a meadow, and when I knelt in front of it to take its photo for the first time I saw how beautiful it really was. I saw that it had an inner light; what I think of as the light of creation, shining brightly out at me. I’ve loved it ever since, and since that day I don’t think I’ve ever truly thought of another flower, no matter how lowly, as a weed.

The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind. ~Rumi

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1. Wild Geranium

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) have just started blooming. Other common names include alum root, old maid’s nightcap and shameface. In Europe it is called cranesbill because the seed pod resembles a crane’s bill. The Native American Mesquakie tribe brewed a root tea for toothache from wild geranium, but I’m not sure if it’s toxic. Much Native knowledge was lost and we can’t always use plants as they did. Somehow they knew how to remove, weaken or withstand the toxicity of many plants that we now find too toxic for our use.

2. Rhodora

Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because it isn’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

3. Rhodora Close

Because of their habit of growing in or very close to the water I couldn’t get close enough to this rhodora to get a shot of a single flower, but if you’ve ever seen an azalea blossom then you know what they look like. It’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

4. Buttercup

The waxy shine on buttercup (Ranunculus) petals is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

5. Witch Alder

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is usually seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. Their color comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments.

6. Witch Alder

Though it looks big in this photo this witch alder is barely 6 feet tall, and it’s the largest one I’ve seen. Most others I’ve seen are 2-3 feet tall. As you can see they flower profusely and are said to make an excellent hedge.

7. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) has leaves that grow in a whorl, which you can see in this photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. It makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. The dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years.

8. Honeysuckle

We have several invasive honeysuckle species here in New Hampshire and I’ve given up trying to identify them all. Most or all are banned from being sold but birds love their bright red berries and that makes the shrubs impossible to ever eradicate. This example had the pinkest flowers I think I’ve ever seen on a honeysuckle.

9. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees grow throughout our forests and this is what makes people believe they’re seeing “wild” apples, when in fact every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. I love apple trees for their fragrance and so did my grandmother. Each year at this time I used to give her all the apple blossoms I could pick and for a day or two her house would smell like an orchard.

10. Bleeding Heart

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and since it’s already getting hot here I thought I should get a couple of photos of them.  It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

11. Striped Maple

The flowers of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) look like bells dangling on a cord. They usually hang down under the leaves and can be very hard to get a good photo of, but every now and then a wind will come along and blow them up over a leaf, and that’s what happened here. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.

12. Striped Maple

Another view of the unusual striped maple flowers. Each flower has 5 green sepals and 5 greenish-yellow petals with outward turning lobes that are a bit longer than the sepals. Their six to eight stamens show that those in the photo are male flowers. A striped maple needs to be at least ten years old to produce seeds. They like cool moist woods and their large, hand size leaves mean they can take quite a lot of shade, so they grow in the understory. Native Americans are said to have used the wood of striped maple to make arrows and its bark for tea.

13. Pained Trillium

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. As the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them, in my opinion. Each bright white petal has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. Unlike its two cousins its flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

14. Gaywings

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

15. Gaywings

Some flowers invite you to sit and admire their beauty. Others would like you to understand them, and most can make you smile, even on cloudy days. I find that all three are true of fringed polygala. They are with us for a relatively short time so I’m always very happy to find them in spring. I just found another small colony on Thursday and getting to know them over the next few months will be a pleasure.

Many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it. ~Søren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.

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Here are a few more of the wildflowers that I’ve seen recently.

 1. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) is native to the U.S. but doesn’t grow in New England states. The one pictured grows in a local park, but it is a wildflower. I thought it was pretty enough to include here. This plant is also called Indian physic, because Native Americans used the powdered root as a laxative and emetic. I can’t seem to uncover how the plant got the name of bowman’s root or its other common name, which is fawn’s breath. It’s a beautiful plant that does well in gardens and is sold by nurseries.

 2. Bush Honeysuckle

Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) is showing its tubular, pale yellow flowers right on schedule. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

 3. Dame's Rocket aka Hesperis matronalis

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is a common sight at the edges of woodlands and along riversides at this time of year. It always tries to fool those who just take a quick glance into thinking it is phlox, but a closer look at the 4 petaled flowers and long, mustard family seed pods give it away. This plant was introduced from Europe and Asia and, as the all too familiar story goes, escaped and is now considered an invasive weed.

 4. Multiflora Rose

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is another invasive plant from Japan and Korea. This one blooms at about the same time as blackberries here and from a distance it is easy to confuse the two. A closer look at its leaves gives it away immediately though, because they look nothing like a blackberry or raspberry. Since this is a rose its thorns are quite sharp and the plant forms dense, impenetrable thickets that all but the smallest animals have a hard time getting through. It also grows over native shrubs and even into trees, trying to get as much of the available sunlight that it can.

5. Multiflora Rose in Tree

This shows what multiflora rose can do. It was about 25 or 30 feet up in this tree.

 6. Rugosa Rose

Rosa rugosa (Rosaceae) is another Asian native that has been here so long that people call it a “wild” rose. This rose was introduced to Europe from Japan in 1796 and then introduced to the United States in 1845. It is very resistant to salt spray and grows large red fruit, called hips. It is for those reasons that it is also called beach tomato. I found this one growing on the side of a road. Like multiflora rose, it forms dense thickets and is considered a noxious weed. It has beautiful, very fragrant blossoms.

 7. Stitchwort

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) flowers are very small but there are enough of them so the plant can’t be missed. They grow at the edges of fields and pastures, and along pathways. The stems of this plant live through the winter so it gets a jump on the season, often blooming in May. This plant is a native of Europe and is also called chickweed.

 8. Stitchwort

The 5 petals of the lesser stitchwort flower are split deeply enough to look like 10 petals. This is one way to tell it from greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea,) which has its 5 petals split only half way down their length. The flowers of greater stitchwort are also larger.

 9. Yellow Goat's Beard

Yellow goat’s beard flowers (Tragopogon dubius) usually have 13 green, sharply pointed bracts behind each flower but this one must have wanted to be different because it has only 12. These bracts grow longer than the petals and that is important when trying to identify it. The fun thing about this plant is its huge, spherical seed heads that look like giant dandelion seed heads.

 10. Yellow Sorrel

Yellow sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often called a clover but it isn’t. Its three, clover like leaflets close up flat at night and in intense sunshine. The flowers also close at night. The petals have very faint, usually unnoticed lines that go toward the throat, and that is what I tried to show in this photo.

11. White Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has to be the plant with the most common names-so many that I wonder if I should list them all. Oh, why not?  Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway. No matter what it’s called, there is no doubt that yarrow has been used medicinally for many centuries-it has even been found in Neanderthal graves. The scientific name Achillea comes from the legend of Achilles carrying the plant into battle so it could be used to staunch the flow of blood from his soldier’s wounds.

 12. Whorled Loosestrife

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. The flowers on this example are unusual because of the red stripes on the petals-I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.

13. Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is another plant with leaves that grow in a whorl, which can be easily seen in the photo. This is a low growing summer wildflower with 4 petaled white flowers that seems to prefer the shade at the edges of forests. This plant makes an excellent old fashioned groundcover which, if given plenty of water, will spread quickly. The odoratum part of the scientific name comes from the pleasant, very strong fragrance of its dried leaves. Dried leaves are often used in potpourris because the fragrance lasts for years.  I found this plant in the yard of friends.

 14. Tulip Tree Blossom

 Tulip tree isn’t one that you think of when you think of New Hampshire, but I found one growing in a local park. I find that the leaves remind me of tulips more than the flowers do. I’ve heard these trees called tulip poplar but they are actually in the magnolia family. Another name for this tree is canoe wood because it is thought to be one of the trees that Native Americans used for dugout canoes.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  ~A.A. Milne

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