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Posts Tagged ‘Tall White Asters’

Our meadows and roadsides are starting to take on that “Monet painting” look now, with purple loosestrife and goldenrods still predominating. Soon asters will take over, along with later goldenrods as the loosestrife blooms itself out.

You can’t tell from the previous photo but a lot of the Canada goldenrods (Solidago canadensis) I’m seeing have bunch galls at the very tip of the stem like the one seen in the above photo. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, but I got lucky on this day and found two blossoms sort of open. Each flower has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Japanese beetles, I’ve discovered, love smartweeds. Better smartweeds than garden plants. They can do a lot of damage to a garden.

Tall white asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges and meadow edges, sometimes by the hundreds.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to fully open. This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is one of our smallest lobelias. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the stem while flowers are still blooming, as this photo shows.

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

I was surprised to find common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) still blooming. It grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds.

All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. The pretty flowers are about an inch across. 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.

Most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens when they thought of St. John’s wort, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The beautiful flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma. It is on the rare side in this area and I know of only two places where it grows.

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. They are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots.

Nodding bur marigold (Bidens tripartita) likes full sun and wet feet and can often be found growing right beside the water horehound that we saw in the previous photo. Its flower is much showier though, and looks something like a miniature sunflower. As they age the flower heads nod towards the ground and that’s how it comes by its common name. Another common name is nodding beggar’s tick, because its seeds are barbed and stick to just about anything that happens by. In this part of New Hampshire this plant grows about knee high, sometimes in standing water. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. 

I saw this stand of balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) in a local park.

Balloon flowers get their common names from their buds, which look like small, air filled balloons. It’s an Asian native that apparently doesn’t escape gardens, at least in this area. It is also called the Chinese bellflower and is in the campanula family. I love its blue color. This one had beautiful blue veins.

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are still blooming strong. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. As I’ve said before, I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

An ox-eye daisy wanted me to remember June. I thanked it for the memory and moved on, wishing it  really was June again.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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