Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Tall Meadow Rue’

Last Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day of the year according to the weather people, with highs nearing 100 degrees. In the 1800s before air conditioning our ancestors used to climb hills for the breeze or find water to sit by or swim in to stay cool. It was too humid to climb so I went to the Ashuelot River, one of the most beautiful and natural bodies of water in the area.

Not only are the trails shaded along the river but there are no hills there, so there is little exertion required to hike them. Still, it was hot.

Ferns often make it seem cooler but on this day they burned like flames.

A turtle contemplated the beautiful blue of a pickerel weed blossom.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) blossomed all along the river banks on both sides of the river. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds but there are so many of them they never seem to disappear.

Blue vervain, Allegheny monkey flower and fringed loosestrife grew all in a tangle, all competing for the same place in the sun.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. The throat is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green. This plant usually gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and it isn’t all that common. No matter how many times I see it I never see a monkey.

Beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata) also likes to grow in damp sunny places so it does well along the river. The plants here must have been six feet tall. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Great colonies of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. They are the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area but they seem to be having an extended bloom period this year. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground so I have to bend the stems up gently to get a face on photo like this one. It’s always worth the effort.

This bat box was new since I was here last. I’m seeing more and more of these in my travels. Bats are natural insect controllers so I’m all for seeing more of them.

I love the leaves of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis.) They look like no other fern I’ve ever met.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

Though I’ve been coming here for over 50 years I always find something new when I return, and today’s new thing was a colony of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides.) Since I’ve never seen them anywhere before I had to spend a while trying to identify them but they were obviously in the campanula family so it only took a little while.

The small white flowers are maybe a half inch long and about the same diameter as an aspirin. The 5 petals flare outward and are pointed at the tip, with a single thin gray or blue line down the center. White stamens and a long curly style make up the reproductive parts. They’re quite small but very pretty.

The plants have weak stems and tend to sprawl and tangle.

I thought I heard a tall meadow rue say “Pssst; hey, come over here and look at this.” I didn’t need to see its leaves yellowing already, but I looked. Like spring fall begins on the forest floor with just a whisper, but before you know it the whisper becomes a shout and the trees are ablaze. The forest here is made up of mostly red maples and in the fall this trail is as beautiful as a place can be.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) had just started blooming here. Its flowers look like white Joe Pye weed and that’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap flowers grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

One of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down this year like they had been two years ago. That was the time I found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut down such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

By the time I reached the little red bridge I was drenched and ready to turn around and go back.

I saw a lot of blue here on this day and since it’s my favorite color I was happy to see it. Blue is supposed to be a cool color but I didn’t feel very cool. When I started the temperature was 66 degrees F. and when I finished it was 86 degrees F. A rise of 20 degrees in an hour and a half, but was it worth it? Absolutely. In the words of the Chinese poet Lu Tung (790 – 835), “all the wrongs of life passed out through my pores.”

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

It’s foxglove time here in New Hampshire and I love seeing the tall spikes full of tubular flowers. At one time the plant was called folksglove according to a list of plants from the time of Edward III (1312-1377,) because the flowers were “thought to be the gloves of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, who lived in the deep hollows and woody dells where the plants grew.”

Bees, especially honey bees, love the foxglove flower and after landing on the projecting lower lip of the blossom follow the nectar guide spots up into the blossom. These spots were said to be fairy fingerprints in King Edward’s time but really they just tell the bees where to go. Once at the top of the blossom the bee finds a ring of nectar but while crawling up to it, it has brushed against the little dangly bits you can see in this photo. Those are the pollen carrying anthers of the male stamens, which lie flat against the top of the tube, and the bee carries pollen from one blossom to another as it brushes against them. Once pollinated a single plant can produce up to two million dust like seeds.

A fallen blossom shows that the nectar guide spots don’t just lie on the inside surface of the flower.

I saw this fine display of coreopsis last week, but even thought the plant is known for its drought tolerance all the flowers were gone in days. There are about 80 species of coreopsis and many are native to the prairies of the U.S.

I thought the maiden pinks blooming at the feet of the coreopsis made for a beautiful scene.

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. This, one of our most beautiful trees, are loaded with big, orchid like blossoms right now. Each flower tube is big enough to easily put your finger in and I’d say the flowers must be at least 3 inches across. Soon long, thin seed pods will dangle from the branches. When I was a boy we always called catalpas string bean trees because that’s what the seed pods look like.

I think of Johnny jump ups as spring flowers because they like cool weather but I’m seeing quite a few of them in this hot, dry summer, including this pale example. Since the name Viola tricolor means three colors, I was surprised to see only white and yellow petals, but then I looked closely at the photo and saw just a hint of blue in those two upper petals.

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.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. John’s day, and it was right on that day this year that I saw the first blooms. The plant’s healing properties have been well known since ancient times; the Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

The black dots on its yellow petals make St. John’s wort very easy to identify. They are tiny sacs that hold the plant’s essential oils and when they are crushed, a dark red oil will come from them. These essential oils are used in homeopathic remedies to treat everything from healing wounds to treating depression.

An important native food found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. They grow in wet, boggy areas and despite the drought  I got my knees quite wet getting photos of them. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) has tiny hooded flowers that always look like they’re cheering and laughing. They also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

I think of black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) as a fall flower so they always remind me that summer will end all too soon. They have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall, and I suppose that’s why I think of them as I do. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. They’re native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them. I found these examples growing along the river bank and as I was taking their photo a rabbit ran out from behind them.

I do love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact I’ve often thought that, if I had to design a beautiful flower I don’t think I could do better than this.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. I almost always find it near water, as this plant was. It is another plant which for me marks summer’s passing.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) have just started blooming and are commonly found along streams or on the edges of swamps.

Elderberry bushes are very common in this part of New Hampshire; common enough to be largely ignored, in fact. But, if you take the time to stop and really look at them you find that the large, flat flower heads are made up of hundreds of tiny, uncommonly beautiful flowers. Later in August each flower will have become a small purple berry so dark it is almost black.

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

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Something I’ve just discovered after many years of seeing these plants is the wonderful spicy fragrance of the flowers. When a lot of them are in bloom at the same time the fragrance is amazing. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

Just in time for the 4th of July, tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) puts on its own fireworks display. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo. Every time Independence day comes around I know it’s time to watch for these and all of the other flowers in this post. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long. There is an orchid with very beautiful flowers growing in a swamp that I am impatiently waiting to see. It should appear next week if all goes well.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Like a tree full of orchids, that’s what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. These big trees are blooming all over the area right now, about a week later than usual.

At 1-2 inches across catalpa flowers are large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. Each one is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough to put your finger in, with room to spare. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

From huge flowers to small flowers. I can’t call cow wheat blossoms tiny, but they are small. Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite.

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils) but this year I’m seeing more single blooms than pairs. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The flowers bloom at about shoe top height. I thought I’d put one on a penny so you could see how small they really are.

Cow wheat blossoms seem big compared to the tiny blossoms of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog.

Last year when I showed what I thought was bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia) a helper wrote in and asked if it could be sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) instead. Since I found the plant growing in standing water and since the flower clusters were terminal, appearing at the ends of the branches, I didn’t think so. But now I’m not so sure because sheep laurel also has terminal flower clusters and the new leaves come out below the flower clusters and grow up around them, and that’s exactly what this plant does. But names of things are becoming less and less important to me as I get older and I can live with knowing it’s one or the other. I hope you can too.

One thing I know for sure is that it is a laurel and you can tell that by the ten pockets in each flower, where the anthers reside under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on the flower the spring loaded anthers release from their pockets and dust it with pollen.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. These flowers are about the same diameter as a pencil eraser and, since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

Beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) started blooming about a week ago. This is a plant that I’ve searched for many years for and could never find until I finally found some growing in an unmown lawn, and now I know of two places it grows in. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are notorious for catching onto the legs of insects and not letting go so I thought that’s what had happened to this fly, especially since it let me take shot after shot without flying off, but I finally poked it with my finger and away it went. Apparently it was simply too involved with what it was doing to pay me any mind.

Cranberries are one of the native fruits that grow abundantly here in the northeast. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but they will grow in drier areas near water. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries and that has evolved into what we call them today. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can catch a cranberry blossom before its petals have recurved, but on this day I only saw one or two out of many hundreds.

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. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. Meadow rue can grow 7-8 feet tall so getting above it can be next to impossible. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens. Knowing when flowers bloom is a fun thing; they give you something beautiful to look forward to all summer long.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

A cool damp spring like the one we’ve had can make New Englanders out of sorts sometimes and downright grumpy at other times, but a snowstorm in May can seem like a real slap in the face. Just as we were raking all the leaves we couldn’t get raked last fall because of November snows, along comes more snow on May 14th. Luckily this time we only saw about an inch but one year we saw about a foot of snow fall after the leaves had come out on the trees, and it caused an unbelievable amount of tree damage. I was still picking up fallen branches in July.

Luckily most of the leaves appeared after the snow had melted, so it was little bother.

Of course I watched the leaves appear. Beech leaves especially, are very beautiful in the spring. They look like little angel wings.

This photo shows how bud break progresses on a beech tree. Many people think one leaf comes out of each beech bud but in fact all of the current year’s growth for that branch is contained in a single bud. Here you can see at least 4 leaves coming from this bud. The branch will grow and elongate so the leaves are separated just enough so one doesn’t block the sunlight falling on another; just one of the many miracles of nature that so many never see.

A new beech leaf retains its silvery hairs for just a very short time so you have to watch closely to catch it. I try not to offer much advice to the readers of this blog but I know that what works for me might work for others so as I have said before; try to find joy in the simple things in life, because if you do joy will follow you wherever you go. When you find yourself passing up just about anything else to watch the unfurling of a leaf or to sit beside a giggling stream you’ll know you are there. And you’ll want to stay.

Beech isn’t the only tree growing leaves in spring of course. Oak leaves usually start life in some color other than green like red or purple, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them wearing white.

Maple trees also have leaves that open to something other than green; usually red or orange if it’s a red maple (Acer rubrum.) If it’s cold or cloudy as the new leaves emerge they’ll stay in their non green state but sunlight and warmth will eventually coax the tree into producing chlorophyll and they green up quickly so they can start photosynthesizing and making food.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be beautiful in the spring; beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’ll be sorry. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it somehow and I’ve been itching for a week. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

There are a few evergreen trees in a local park that produce beautiful purple cones in spring and this is one of them. It’s a spruce tree but I don’t know its name. It’s needles are very stiff and sharp and I actually drove one of them into my finger when I was trying to get this photo.

Many plant parts are purple in spring, including flowers like those on what I believe is sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum.) Grasses can be very beautiful and I hope everyone reading this walks a little slower and looks a little closer so they can see them.

I thought these new tall meadow rue leaves (Thalictrum pubescens) edged in purple were very pretty. This is a fast growing plant which will tower over my head and be blooming on the fourth of July with little orange tipped white flowers that look like bombs bursting in air.

Right after I told Jerry at the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog that I hadn’t seen any butterflies I started seeing them, and that’s the way this blogging thing always seems to work. I don’t dare tell you it will be sunny tomorrow because if I did it would surely rain. Anyhow, this eastern swallowtail landed in a bare spot in a lawn I was standing on and I noticed that it had a large piece of its left wing missing. It was a close call because whatever took its wing just barely missed its body. I’m guessing a bird got it.

By the way, you can find Jerry’s blog over there on the right in the “favorite links” section and you should, because it’s a great nature blog that I’ve enjoyed for many years.

An ant was on a dandelion blossom but when I went to take its photo it crawled off onto a nearby leaf. I never knew they were so hairy.

This swamp is where I find many of the spring ephemeral flowers that you see on this blog. Goldthread, trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, dwarf ginseng and others grow here. Great blue herons nest here and many types of ducks visit, but they’re very wary and almost impossible to get a good shot of.

Many ferns also grow around the swamp in the previous photo. This cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) was unfurling beautifully one recent day. It’s hard to believe this little thing will be waist high in just a short time.

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs, but I don’t think I’ve ever found them in May. This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) are easy to confuse with chanterelle wax caps but they have a dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem and these mushrooms didn’t have that. Chanterelle wax caps have pale yellow gills that run down the stem. They also have occasional short gills, which means they stop short of the stem. Both features can be seen in this photo.

The skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) swamp is green with new leaves. Many thousands of plants grow here as they have for who knows how many hundreds or even thousands of years.

I love the spring green of the forest floor seen here. It’s hard to tell but the green comes from many thousands of wildflowers, including sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia.) This forest along the Ashuelot river is where I come to find them each spring.

I also visit the Ashuelot River to watch the buds of shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) break each spring. They’re one of the most beautiful things seen in a New England forest in spring in my opinion, and I wouldn’t miss their opening. I’ve always thought this tree liked lowlands but I recently saw them growing high on a hillside in a hardwood forest.

Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time. I hope you’ll take that time, if you can.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. 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.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~ Buffalo Joe

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens) always bloom close to the 4th of July and always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it growing at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which was a good thing because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) also reminds me of fireworks. This one grows in my garden and also reminds me of the friend who gave it to me several years ago. Hers grew to towering heights but this one usually stays at about three feet.

This beautiful hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) blossomed after the rain we finally got last Thursday. It wasn’t enough but it helped. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds it has gotten to the point where all I see now are these bicolor ones. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has narrower arrowhead shaped, triangular leaves.

As I was admiring the hedge bindweed blossoms I happened to glance over to where one of our most beautiful wildflowers bloomed. Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) are blooming about two weeks early this year. These plants are sometimes very tall and can tower over a person of average height but this one came only to my chin, and I’m not tall.

The flowers of Canada lilies are as big and as beautiful as the garden lilies I think we’re all familiar with and they come in red and orange as well as yellow. Their habit of nodding towards the ground can make getting a photo difficult, but I (very gently) tilt the stem back with one hand while I take the photos with the other. It’s not the ideal set up but it lets me show you the brownish purple spots on the inside throat of the trumpet and the huge red anthers. Speaking of anthers; many have found out the hard way that the pollen from those and other lily anthers will stain a white tablecloth permanently. The flower buds and roots were gathered and eaten by Native Americans. The scaly bulbs were cooked and eaten with other foods, such as venison and fish. They were also cooked and saved for winter use. They are said to have a very peppery flavor.

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

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

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

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

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and they can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area yet. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years but last year they seemed a little more plentiful.

Several times over the years I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife. The red dots on these petals seem to have run a bit and blended together. This is the first time I’ve seen this.

Pretty fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area. It’s also the tallest and biggest flowered of the three yellow loosestrifes we have. Great colonies of the knee high plant can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. It might be confused with whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) if the two plants bloomed at the same time, but in this area fringed loosestrife usually blooms later. Like the lilies, this year it’s about two weeks early. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground. On whorled loosestrife they face outward. The leaf arrangements on the two plants are also very different.

Fringed loosestrife gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes.

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing that is blooming now. It has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

Two years ago I followed a trail through a swamp and was astonished to see a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) growing right there beside the trail. This year once again I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that nobody would pick it or a deer wouldn’t eat it. Finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year and the year before.

This is easily one of the most beautiful flowers that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of flowers.  It is something I’d happily walk many miles to see because such a sight is so very rare; truly a once in a lifetime find in these parts. It grows in black, very wet swamp mud where for part of the spring there is standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. I’ve read that the flowers are pollinated by large butterflies and moths, but I’ve never seen an insect near them. I do hope they get pollinated and produce plenty of seeds. The Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots and  made tea from them to protect them from ghosts. Ghosts or not, I’d have a very hard time digging up something so beautiful.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Did everyone see fireworks on the 4th? I did, but not in the traditional sense. Mine came in the form of tall meadow rue flowers (Thalictrum pubescens,) which always bloom close to the 4th of July and which always remind me of “bombs bursting in air.” These are the plant’s male flowers; starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

I don’t see tall meadow rue in meadows unless the meadow is very wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten this view because it often grows 7-8 feet tall and towers over me. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance. In spring the plant’s young leaves fool many into thinking they’ve found wild columbine.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like these examples do. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were maybe a dozen plants in this group and they were beautiful.

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The blossom in the foreground shows whiter spots than the younger blossom on the right. They apparently start life with yellow spots which turn to white as they age. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom.  If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it has a secret; it is a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. This little plant wants it all.

Narrow-leaf cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I usually find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests but I’ve also seen it recently on roadsides. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

The small, furry, white to light purple flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) are easy to miss. At a glance this plant might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. It is found along roads and in fields.

The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color and I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with any photo I’ve taken of them. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form.

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape, especially near brooks and streams. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

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

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants.

Here is a better view of how partridge berry flowers are joined at the base to form a single ovary and a single berry. The berries are rather tasteless but ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white footed mice eat them. Native American women made a tea from the leaves of partridge berry to promote easy delivery in childbirth. Tea made from the berries is said to have a sedative effect on the nervous system.

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 and that’s how it comes by its common name. 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.

Both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl on whorled loosestrife, because where each leaf meets the stem (axils) a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. Many plants grow flowers in the axils of the leaves, but most do not grow in whorls. Almost all species of loosestrife with yellow flowers often have a lot of red in them as this example had.

A view looking down on a whorled loosestrife shows how the leaves and flowers are arranged in whorls around the stem. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example seems to have had 4. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

There are a few lobelias that look similar but I think this one might be pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata,) which gets its common name from its small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, as I was lucky enough to do on this day. There is also a purple variant but I’ve never seen it. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma. The plant must have worked well because early explorers took it back across the Atlantic where it is still used medicinally today. It has to be used with great care by those who know how to use it though, because too much of it can kill.

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that; it’s a very sharp, almost acrid odor and on a hot summer day your nose will tell you that you’re near this plant long before you see it.

Black swallowwort is a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. It is believed to have come to North America from Ukraine in the 1800s.  Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level. In Canada it is called the dog strangling vine and Canadians are testing the use of Hypena opulenta moth caterpillars as a means of biological control. So far they say, the results look promising. The caterpillars come from Ukraine and are a natural enemy of the plant. This plant illustrates the biggest danger of importing plants; the animals and insects that control them are left behind in their native lands, and once they arrive in their new home they are able to grow unchecked.

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

Native Americans used spreading dogbane medicinally and used its strong fibers to make thread and cord. The plant’s milky white sap is very sticky and I wonder how they removed it from the thread they made.

Spreading dogbane’s bell shaped flowers are very fragrant and I love to smell then when I can find one without an insect in it. They’re also very pretty, with faint pink stripes on the inside. They remind me of lily of the valley flowers but are quite a lot larger. The ant traveled from blossom to blossom as if trying to make up its mind which was best.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its 5 yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along riverbanks and roadsides growing in full sun.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Polypody Fern

It’s time again for many ferns to start their reproductive cycles and in this photo the tiny spore cases (sorus) of polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) shine like beacons.  Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by the name rock cap fern. They’re an evergreen fern that loves to grow on boulders.

2. Polypody Fern Sorus

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus (plural of sori) is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sori is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sorus are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers. As of this photo it hadn’t happened yet.

3. Yellow Mushroom

We’re still having thunderstorms roll through and after each one passes I find a few more fungi, but nothing like the numbers I should be seeing. I thought this one might be the American Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) but it should be redder in color and the cap should have lined margins. Colors can vary but I wouldn’t think that the lined cap margin would, so in the end I don’t really know what it is. If you do I’d love to hear from you.

4. Jelly Babies

I put this tiny cluster of orange jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) in an acorn cap so you could see how small they are. Once you train your eyes to see small things before long you’ll be able to see them everywhere and a whole new chapter in the book of nature will open for you. I have to retrain my eyes to see small things again each spring and I do that by visiting places where I know small flowers like spring beauty, red maple, and wild ginger grow. Your eyes adjust quite easily, I’ve found.  Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi.

5. Puffballs

These spiny puffballs (Lycoperdon echinatum) were young when I found them and I know that because they were pure white and still had their spines. As they age the spines will fall off, leaving a brownish powdery coating on the surface. Eventually a small hole will appear at the top of the puffball and brownish purple spores will puff out through it whenever it is touched or stepped on.

There are young people out there who seem to think that inhaling certain puffball spores will get them high, but it is never a good thing to do. People who inhale the spores often end up in the hospital due to developing a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis. In one severe instance a teenager spent 18 days in a coma, had portions of his lung removed, and suffered severe liver damage.

6. Oyster Mushrooms

These oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) were pure white and seemed to shine against the dark wood of the log. They’re usually found on logs in large clusters. These examples were young and no bigger than a quarter.  Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. They cause a white rot in living trees.

7. Oyster Mushroom

Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

8. Great Blue Heron

I’m seeing a lot more great blue herons this year than I did last year. The one in the above photo was happy to stand like a statue, up to his knees in the Ashuelot river. I hoped it would do something interesting but in the end its patience outlasted mine.

9. Spring Peeper-

I’m sure the heron would have loved to have met this spring peeper, but luckily the little frog was off in the forest near a pond.  The dark colored X shaped marking on its back and the dark bar on its head from eyes to eye make this frog easy to identify. Spring peepers are tiny things that are usually less than an inch and a half long and experts at camouflage, so I don’t see them often. I love them because they are the heralds of spring; few things are more pleasing to these ears than hearing their song on the first warm March evening.

10. Bumblebee

I’m happy to be seeing quite a lot of bees this year. This bumblebee foraged on a Joe Pye weed flower head one day.

11. Spider

I was kneeling, trying to get that perfect shot of a flower when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I watched for a while, fascinated as an orb weaver spider wove its web, before remembering that I had a camera.  It was quite big as spiders go and easily seen but the camera had trouble with the details, so I had to move in closer. When I did it retreated to its home under a fern frond, so this was the only useable shot I got. It had very furry legs and a bright red body.

12. Oak Leaf Skeleton

There is an insect called the oak leaf skeletonizer but it eats only the soft tissue on the upper side of an oak leaf, leaving it translucent The damage to the oak leaf in the above photo was most likely caused by a caterpillar. It ate the soft tissue on both sides of the leaf, leaving only the veins behind. I’m guessing that the beautiful white hickory tussock moth caterpillar was the culprit. It feeds on nut trees, including oaks.

13. Oak Leaves

Speaking of oaks, they’re shedding their leaves regularly now due to the drought. They and other trees like apples and hickory nuts are shedding their fruit as well, trying to conserve energy. Wild blueberries, raspberries and blackberries have also been in distress and many are small and deformed. Some animals might have a hard time of it, but it’s too early to tell.

14. Meadow Rue Foliage

The leaves of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) often change color early on. These became a beautiful purple; as beautiful as any flower. In spring before it blossoms meadow rue is often mistaken for columbine because its leaves look similar. It is also called king of the meadow due to its great height. I’ve seen plants reach more than 8 feet tall in optimal conditions.

15.Bracken Fern

In some places bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) have already dried out and gone to orange. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

16. Honeysuckle Fruit

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries can be red or orange but I seldom see the orange ones and I wonder if that might be because they ripen from green to orange to red. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough; our drought doesn’t seem to have affected any of the plants I’ve seen. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow.  Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

17. Hobblebush Berries

Hobblebush berries (drupes) turn dark purple when they’re fully ripe but I like seeing them when they’re in the red stage as they are here. Anyhow, I rarely see them in the purple, ripe stage because birds and animals eat them up so fast. Among the birds cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers are known to eat the fruit. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them, so there is a lot of competition. It’s no wonder I rarely see them ripe. The fruit is edible and is said to taste like clove spiced raisins or dates but the seeds are large and the flesh thin. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are said to taste better after a frost. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for hobblebush, from curing headaches to chest and breathing problems, and they also ate the berries.

18, Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Why pay attention to the little things? If the beauty of this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) doesn’t answer that question, then nothing ever will.

There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it. ~Charlotte Eriksson

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Black Eyed Susans

Our lack of rainfall continues but in spite of the dryness our roadsides and meadows are starting to blossom. In this photo yarrow and black eyed Susans soak up the sunshine.

2. Black Eyed Susans

I have trouble with black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because they always remind me how fast summer is passing. It’s probably because I’ve always thought of them as a late summer or even fall flower. I don’t know if they’re blooming earlier or if their blooming later in the year was in my imagination all along. Either way I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by.

3. Black Swallowwort

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that. On a hot summer day this plant can be smelled from quite a distance. It’s a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level.

4. Catalpa

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but I’d still love to have one in my yard because they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a 100 foot tall tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good mental picture of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large.

5. Catalpa

At 1-2 inches catalpa tree flowers are large. Each flower will become a long, bean like seed pod and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

6. Cow Wheat

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

7. Elderberry

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

8. Elderberry

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

9. Foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like I did recently. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful.

10. Foxglove

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom.  If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

11. 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. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example had 3. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

12. Whorled Loosestrife

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. This shot shows how pitted the leaves can be. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

13. Swamp Candle

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife that we saw previously. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

14. Swamp Candle

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

15. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun. I’m not sure why this example only has 4 petals; it should have 5.

16. Partridge Berry

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

17. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five heart shaped pale yellow petals tell me that this is sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I found this example in an unmown field.

18. Tall Meadow Rue

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream and the stream ran under the road. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten a view looking down on it because it often grows 7-8 feet tall. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

19. Tall Meadow Rue

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Tall Meadow Rue

Here in the United States we celebrate our independence on this day and “bombs bursting in air” are part of that celebration. Right on schedule tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blooms and add its own kind of fireworks to the festivities. This plant is also called king of the meadow, probably because it can reach 6 or 7 feet tall under perfect conditions. It likes wet feet and its head in the sun, and grows in places that never completely dry out. The example shown is a male plant which has petal-less, stamen only flowers that dangle in sparkly panicles.

2. Wood Sorrel

Years ago I found a small group of native wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) and have never seen any since until just recently. It’s a beautiful little thing which to me is like a spring beauty bonus that blooms in summer.  Unfortunately it’s very rare here, or at least I thought so. Now I’m not so sure; I found these plants growing in a spot that I have passed close to a hundred times, and that illustrates perfectly why I never hike a trail just once. You simply can’t see everything there is to see by hiking a trail once and since flowers bloom at different times, if you want to see them a trail should be hiked every couple of weeks. It’s the only way to see all of the plants that grow in a certain place.

3. Slender Nettle

Though slender nettle (Urtica gracilis) has fewer stinging hairs it is sometimes regarded as a variety of stinging nettle and is referred to as Urtica dioica gracilis. Its common name comes from the long, slender leaves. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) has fatter, shorter, more heart shaped leaves. But grab ahold of either plant and you’ll find out why the Urtica part of the scientific name comes from the Latin uro, which means “I burn.” The hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems are called trichomes and act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that cause the stinging. If you’re lucky the nettle you run into will be growing next to some jewel weed (Impatiens capensis,) because the sap of that plant will stop the burning and stinging. People have been using nettles for food, medicine, fibers, and dyes since before recorded time.

4. Virginia Creeper

When I showed the Pathfinders around the old abandoned road near Beaver Brook we saw plenty of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Jim, their leader, mentioned that he had never seen its flowers. The flowers won’t win any blue ribbons at flower shows but they are another interesting part of nature that many people never see, so here they are.

5. Virginia Creeper

Each Virginia creeper flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 greenish, backward curving petals, 5 stamens with white filaments and large yellow anthers, and a conical pistil. If pollinated each flower becomes a bluish berry that many birds and animals love to eat. They are eaten by bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, and turkeys. Mice, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer eat them too and deer also eat the leaves and stems. My favorite part of the plant is its leaves, which turn bright scarlet, orange and purple in the fall.

6. Staghorn Sumac Flowers

Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta) is another flower that most of us, myself included, pass by without a glance. This time I decided to stop and see what I had been missing. It’s another of those flowers that won’t win any prizes but insects must love them, judging by how each flower head becomes a cluster of bright red, fuzzy berries. Each greenish yellow flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 curved petals, a 5 lobed calyx, 5 stamens, and a central pistil, all of which are so tiny I can’t even see them by eye alone.

7. Black Swallowwort

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but on a hot summer day this plant is a real stinker that can be smelled from quite a distance. It’s a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades them out. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden; I can think of one or two gardens where I tried for years.

8. Black Swallowwort

It is thought that black swallowwort was intentionally introduced to North America around 1900 as an ornamental. I’m guessing that it was more of a garden conversation piece because of its “black” flowers. Plant breeders have been trying to create a truly black flower for a very long time and this one comes very close to fulfilling that dream on its own.

9. Dogbane

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) has pretty little fragrant, pink bell shaped flowers with darker pink stripes inside. They remind me of lily of the valley in shape. Many insects visit these flowers but the plant has a toxic, sticky white latex sap that means animals leave it alone. The plant doesn’t mind a little shade; I often find it growing along trails through the woods. The tough bark from the stems of dogbanes produces fibers that Native Americans made a strong thread from. It was used to make nets for hunting rabbits, among other things.

10. Indian Cucumber Root

Natives had uses for Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) as well, and one of them was as food. Like its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.  It’s easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

11. Indian Cucumber Root

The flowers of Indian cucumber root have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown but I think they darken as they age. These appeared to be black under the camera’s flash. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry.

12. Ground Cherry

I don’t see ground cherry plants (Physalis heterophylla) very often. In fact I know of only two places where they grow, but it’s always worth going to visit them in June to see their unusual flowers. There is a bit of work involved though, because the nodding yellow and black flowers can be shy at times and hard to see. You can just see a bit of yellow in this photo at the rear of the plant.

13. Ground Cherry

I had to prop this ground cherry blossom up on a leaf to get this photo so we could see what it looks like. They look like someone put a drop of ink on each petal and then blew through a straw to make a feathery design. If pollination is successful each flower will become a bright yellow berry. This plant is called clammy ground cherry and there is another which looks quite different called smooth ground cherry (Physalis subglabrata.) That plant isn’t hairy and has orange or red berries. All parts of this plant are poisonous except the fruit, which can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be found in all of the lower 48 states except Nevada and California.

14. Bee Balm

Though I’ve seen signs advertising it for sale as bee bomb its common name is actually bee balm, which comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. The native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. No matter what you choose to call it, it’s a beautiful thing that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

15. Swamp Milkweed

If ever there was a flower that could stop me in my tracks and absorb me so fully that I lose all sense of time and place, it is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata.) It is one of those flowers that take me out of myself, and I wait impatiently for its blossoms each summer. How can you not love life when you know there is beauty like this in your future?

16. Columbine

The back of a columbine flower resembled a flock of white swans, come together to discuss whatever it is that swans discuss. I never knew this until now but technically a group of swans is called a whiteness, which seems appropriate. Unless you happen to be a black swan, I suppose.

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. ~Christopher Morley

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »