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Posts Tagged ‘Tall Thimbleweed’

As I’ve said recently in previous posts it has been mostly sunny, hot and dry here so far this summer and now a large part of the state is once again in a moderate drought, for about the third year in a row. Small streams and wetlands are again drying up so last Saturday I decided to go and see how Beaver Brook in Keene was faring. I hadn’t done a post about the place since February so I thought it was time. I like to see the seasonal changes that take place in the various places I visit. It’s how I really get to know the places and the plants that grow in them. The trail through this particular place was once a road north out of Keene, but it was abandoned in the 1970s when a state highway crossed it. Now nature is in the process of reclaiming it.

The first flower I saw blooming on this day was the little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.)

This lobelia gets its common name from its inflated seed pods, which are said to resemble the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking materials in. It’s too early for those but there were plenty of the tiny blue flowers to see.

There is lots of poison ivy here (Toxicodendron radicans,) all along the left side of the old road as you walk up it, so it’s best to wear long pants, hiking boots and socks if you come here. That’s what I always wear anyway and, though I’ve heard you can get a rash just by getting the plant’s oils on your clothes, I’ve walked through knee high poison ivy plants hundreds of times with no ill effects. I tend to be somewhat immune to it though; if I get it on my hand it stays there and doesn’t spread.

Just in case you do start to itch, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows along the right side of the road. If you crush the stems of jewelweed and rub the sap on poison ivy blisters it will stop the itch. It doesn’t cure the rash but it stops the itch as well as calamine lotion does. There are people out there who don’t believe this is true but I’ve used it many times and it works, so I’ll continue using it and the non-believers can scratch. With plants being used even in cancer and HIV treatments I’m not sure why some people have a hard time believing that a plant can stop a simple itch, but they do.

I was shocked to see that a huge portion of ledge had fallen; shocked because I used to kneel right where the stone pile is to get photos of the helleborine orchids that grew there. The stone is white (actually sort of pink) because it is feldspar, and the biggest piece lying at an angle behind the plants is as long as a car. It’s always risky to walk near ledges and this is why. Ledges line almost the entire road and so many years of water seeping between the layers of rock and freezing in winter has cracked them badly, so none of it is stable; it’s all very loose. The city should come in with an excavator and peel away all the loose stone but they don’t even cut brush correctly here, so I know that isn’t going to happen. I’ll be staying well back from the ledges from now on.

The reason the ledges are here at all is because this road was hacked out of the stone of the hillside back in the 1700s. This photo shows a hole in the feldspar made by a star drill. A star drill is a pointed, five sided, two foot long piece of steel. You can tell a star drill was used because you can see the star, as it shows in this photo. To use it one man holds the drill while another strikes it with a sledge hammer. After each hammer blow the drill is turned a quarter turn and then the hammer falls again and again the drill is turned, and so on until a hole is made. Once you have a hole you fill it with black powder, insert and light a fuse, and run as fast as you can. At least, that’s what you do if you happen to live in the 1700s. Feldspar is a softer stone but it was still a tremendous amount of work. After all, someone had to clean up all that blasted stone.

Stone isn’t the only thing falling here. Trees fall regularly and many get hung up on the electric lines that still run alongside the road.

In some places the ledges pull back away from the road as you can see there on the left, but in many places the ledges come right up to the road. You can also see how the trees lean over the electric wires on the right. It’s all about light and plants lean towards the light to get more of it, so this will never stop happening no matter how many trees fall or how many are cut. The hole in the canopy that lets in light is over the road.

The double yellow no passing lines still run down the center of the road even though there hasn’t been a car here for nearly 50 years.

The old guard posts still line the road but they are slowly rotting away.

I met an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen Beaver Brook flood badly enough to come up over the road and I believe it, because you can see where it’s eating away at the edge of the road all along it. This old concrete culvert finally gave up and slid into the brook.  You can also see the size of the boulders that the brook tosses around like pebbles when it rages. And it does rage; I’ve seen it roaring and angry enough to make me leave this place, but normally it just giggles and chuckles along beside you as you walk along.

On this day though, there was little chuckling and giggling to be heard, because the brook had all but dried up to a gurgle. I could walk from bank to bank in this spot without getting my feet wet, and that’s something I’ve never been able to do before. In a normal year I would have been in serious trouble if I had tried to stand in this spot, though it’s actually getting hard to remember what a normal year was like. It seems we’ve had extreme weather take over our thoughts for the past few years.

It’s time to say goodbye to thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) for another year. The seed head will grow on for a while longer and then the seeds will fall.

Purple trillium (Trillium erectum) was also busy making seeds. Trilliums are all about the number three and multiples of it, so the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the end of a log. Though they look like bracket fungi oyster mushrooms have off center stems that attach to the log they grow on. 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 worms, whereupon the mycelium enters its body through orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein. These examples looked like they had slug damage, so the mushroom apparently hasn’t evolved a defense against them.

I saw the most colorful tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) that I’ve ever seen. It had bands of purple and orange and red and that’s unusual, because they’re normally gray, brown, and sometimes a little cream colored. I’ve also seen these tough, woody fungi with squirrel teeth marks all over them in the past but I didn’t see any on this example. I think the squirrels are after the algae that grow on the fungus. They do the same thing with certain lichens. I can’t explain the colors; it’s something I’ve never seen in person or in books.

I saw a very dark colored toad that looked black in person but looks dark green in the photo. It looks like it has somehow lost most of its left front foot. Or maybe it was making a fist. It seemed to hop just fine.

I made the treacherous climb down the steep gravel embankment that leads to Beaver Brook Falls and found what I expected; barely a trickle. The water usually falls with a roar heard from quite far away but on this day there was a little splashing going on that hardly echoed off the stone walls of the canyon. I’ve never seen the falls with so little water coming over them.

This is what the falls normally look like and they probably look much like this right now, because since I went there last weekend it hasn’t stopped raining. We’ve had rain and storms every day since, totaling up to about 4 inches of rain here. We’ve even had flash flood warnings, so I suppose we need to be careful what we wish for in this age of weather extremes. From drought to flood in one post.

The air is impressively warm and close, as thick as honey. ~Lucy Foley

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A lot of our aquatics and pond side plants bloom at this time of year and one of the prettiest is meadow sweet (Spirea alba.) This plant likes moist ground and I have found it near water more often than not but lately I’ve been seeing it in drier spots as well. Its flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy. Some people confuse this plant, which is a shrub, with steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), which is also a shrub, but steeplebush has pink flowers and the undersides of its leaves are silvery-white, while the undersides of meadowsweet leaves are green.

Aquatic common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

We have many different varieties of St. Johnswort and the one above I first thought was  dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum,) but the flowers were too big. Dwarf St. Johnswort flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser and these are nearly the size of common St. Johnswort. So then I thought it might be pale St. Johnswort (Hypericum ellipticum) but the flowers aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow.  Note how big the leaves are; much bigger than common St. Johnswort.

Dwarf St. Johnswort, pale St. Johnswort, and this St. Johnswort all grow in the wet mud at pond edges.
I’ve had trouble sorting it out with plant guides but if you know I’d welcome your thoughts. It’s a very pretty flower and obviously a St. Johnswort.

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

Native Americans washed and boiled young pickerel weed’s leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a geranium that grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

This is the first time white avens (Geum canadense) has appeared here, mostly because I’ve always been too late to get a photo of it. I know of only one place where it grows and thimbleweed also grows there. With its bigger, showier flowers thimbleweed has always stolen the show and I’ve forgotten about white avens. Each flowers is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. That means if you see them in bloom that’s the time to get a photo. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils, even after the flowers turn green. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch.

Thimble weed’s seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

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

Each tiny long leaf speedwell blossom is purple–blue or occasionally white, about a quarter inch across and 4 lobed with quite a long tube. Each has 2 stamens and a single pistil.

I like both single and double roses. This beautiful example of a single rose had enough scent for both.

Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a beautiful little flower that I’ve never seen before. Originally from Europe it has been grown in gardens here in the U.S. since the 1700s. Of course it has escaped gardens and now can be found along roadsides and in waste areas. I found these plants growing along a small stream and I was surprised that I had never seen them before. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall, so maybe they’re young plants. It is also called wild sweet pea, everlasting pea, and hardy sweet pea. The pods and seeds are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s one of those that seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

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.

I like a challenge and each year at this time my greatest challenge comes from the tiny flowers 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. I’m guessing that I must have tried 50 times or more for this one photo and it still isn’t as good as I hoped it would be. It should be sharper.

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.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found these plants at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries in the past and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.” In New Hampshire I could be heavily fined for selling or planting it.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is one of those flowers that take me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer. How could you not look forward to seeing something so beautiful? I could look at it all day. Swamp milkweed is somewhat rare here. I know of only two places it grows.

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

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Nothing says summer to me like lilies blooming, and we’re lucky to have them blooming in fields and along roadsides right now. The flowers of Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) 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. I had a hard time finding them this year though. One spot I know of where a large colony grows had nothing but chewed stems, and I think deer might have eaten them. Another spot near a stream had many lilies blooming 2 years ago and now there is no sign of them. I’m not sure where they could have gone.

These big lilies don’t toil or spin but they thrive out in the fields, sometimes reaching 7 to 8 feet tall. They always remind me of arts and crafts period chandeliers. These examples had a lot of orange on their outsides which is something I don’t often see. They’re usually bright yellow. 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.

Lilies say summer but black eyed Susans remind me that summer will end all too soon. This plant will always be a fall flower to me, probably because they have such a long blooming period and are seen everywhere in the fall. I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by. At least this year they waited until July to bloom.

For some reason chicory (Cichorium intybus) likes to grow in places that get mowed regularly, like along our roadsides. I’m always dismayed when I see such beautiful flowers being cut down but I have seen normal size flowers can bloom on a plant no more than three inches tall, so though the plants may get mowed they aren’t being killed. I’m glad of that because I love their blue color.

One day I was walking on the banks of the Ashuelot River up in Surry, which is north of Keene, and came upon a plant that I had never seen. It turned out to be herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) and my question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

Stinky or not herb Robert has a pretty little flower, but they’re much smaller than other geraniums. Each one seems to be no bigger than a standard aspirin.

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

American basswood trees (Tilia americana) are members of the linden family. Though they are native trees I rarely see them. They belong to the same genus as the lime trees commonly seen in Europe and England. Its flowers are very fragrant and it’s a nice looking shade tree but unfortunately it is also an insect magnet and among the insects it attracts are Japanese beetles in the many thousands. Bees are also attracted in great numbers and the honey produced from basswood foraging bees is said to be choice and highly sought after.

Each of the basswood’s flower clusters (cymes) clings to the middle of an elongated whitish green floral bract. Each small flower is about a half inch in diameter with 5 cream-colored petals, 5 cream-colored sepals, a pistil with a white style, and several stamens with yellow anthers. They are always hard to get a good photo of for some reason, and I usually have to try several times. The seeds of this tree are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the tree and made rope from its tough inner bark. Freshly cut bark was also used as bandages. Syrup was made from the sweet sap and young leaves were eaten in the spring. Not a single part of the tree was wasted.

Many plants that can tolerate a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is one of those. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This is a “wild” rose; beautiful and fragrant enough that I wished it grew in my own yard.

I’ve seen this plant before but I’ve never seen it bloom because the single example I know of grows near a shopping mall and in the past it has always been cut down before it could blossom. But it is persistent and keeps growing back, and finally this year it was able to blossom in peace before being cut. At first I thought it was some type of vining honeysuckle but the tiny flowers and its white latex sap pointed me in the direction of milkweeds.

But the flowers weren’t really right for a milkweed so I tried dogbane, which is in the milkweed family. Finally I found that it is called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum,) which is also called dogbane hemp. It is a  poisonous plant which can cause cardiac arrest if ingested but it’s also a great source of strong fibers and was used by Native Americans to make nets, bow strings, fishing lines, clothing, and twine. Some tribes also used it medicinally despite its toxicity to treat rheumatism, coughs, whooping cough, and asthma.

One of the chief identifiers for Indian hemp are the pretty plum colored stems.

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

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. It is another plant which for me marks summer’s passing.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

Though tall lettuce can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks.

The pale yellowish green flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges and are really quite pretty, but I think they are flowers that most people miss. This one was offering up a lot of pollen.

Last year 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 I’ve been following its progress off and on for months, watching it grow and produce buds, hoping all the while that a hungry deer wouldn’t come along and eat it. The deer left it alone and finally it bloomed at exactly the same time it had last year.

Gosh what a beautiful thing it is; like a bush full of purple butterflies. 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 this spring there was standing water, so it obviously likes wet feet. Last year I was confused about its identity because the middle lower petal didn’t show any fringe but this year as you can see they are fringed, so that clinches it. 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. I was stunned to read that the Native American Iroquois tribe actually dug this orchid up for its roots! They made tea from the roots to protect them from ghosts. Maybe there were a lot more plants then. I could never dig up something so beautiful and rare.

How I wish everyone could become lost in nature at least once. A camera is a good way to experience it because a camera makes you focus intently on what you see, and often when you do that you find that all other thoughts will fade. Your mind and heart open and then it is just you and the incredible beauty of what is before you. You become lost in that beauty and become part of it, and time slips away. It doesn’t matter that you are kneeling in mud because you can’t care about such things. It’s just you and what your attention is focused on, and for that moment in time there is simply nothing else. I’m often astonished to find that what seemed like just a few minutes has actually been an hour or more. That’s how I know that I have been taken away to that other place. It’s a place where, once visited, you know you’d love to stay, and I do hope you’ll find that out for yourself one day.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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