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Posts Tagged ‘Tradescantia’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Meadow

The tree leaves have fully unfurled and the forests are shaded, and that means it’s time to get out of the woods and into the meadows where the sun lovers bloom.

2. Vetch

There aren’t many flowers that say meadow quite like vetch. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. I think of vetch as very blue but this example seemed purple so I checked my color finding software. It sees violet, plum, and orchid, so I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it is cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) which is kind of violet blue.

3. Bowman's Root

Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is a native wildflower but it only grows in two New England Sates as far as I can tell; Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which seems odd but explains why I’ve never seen one in the wild. This example grows in a local park. The dried and powdered root of this plant was used by Native Americans as a laxative, and another common name is American ipecac. Nobody seems to know the origin of the name bowman’s root or whether it refers to the bow of a boat or the bow part of the bow and arrow.

4. Bowman's Root

The white flower petals of bowman’s root are asymmetrical and always look like they were glued on by a chubby fingered toddler. But they are beautiful nonetheless and dance at the end of long stems. And they do dance in the slightest movement of air. Some say that all it takes is the gentle breath of a fawn to set them dancing, and because of that another of their common names is fawn’s breath. A beautiful name for a flower if there ever was one.

5. False Solomon's Seal

I missed getting a photo of Solomon’s seal this year but there are plenty of false Solomon seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) blooming right now. The largest example in this photo was close to three feet tall; one of the largest I’ve seen.

6. False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California used crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Others used the plant medicinally.

7. Yarrow

Humans have used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

8. Goatsbeard

After not seeing any goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis,) for a couple of years I recently found a good stand of it growing in a meadow in full sun. Luckily I was there in the morning because goat’s beard closes up shop at around noon and for this reason some call it “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” A kind of bubble gum can be made from the plant’s milky latex sap and its spring buds are said to be good in salads. Another name for goat’s bead is meadow salsify.

9. Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

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

10. Bittersweet Nightshade

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

11. Wood Sorrel

I can’t say if wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) is rare here but I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grew in a wet area near a stream. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger.

12. Tradescantia

My grandmother had a great love of flowers that rubbed off on me at an early age. I used to walk down the railroad tracks to get from her house to my father’s house and when I did I saw flowers all along the way. One of those was spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana,) and I loved them enough to dig them up and replant them in our yard, despite my father’s apparent displeasure. He didn’t care much for the plant and he often said he couldn’t understand why I had to keep dragging home those “damned old weeds.” He said he wasn’t pleased about a stray cat that I brought home either but it wasn’t a week later that I saw the cat on his lap with him stroking her fur, so I think he really did understand why I kept dragging those damned old weeds home. Though he could have he never did make me dig them up and get rid of them. That’s why spiderwort became “dad’s flower,” and why every single time I see one I think of him.

13. Purple Tradescantia

Spiderworts can be blue, pink, purple, or white so I don’t know if this one growing in a local park is a native natural purple flowered variety or if it’s a purchased cultivar. It’s nice but I like the blue best.

14. Peony

While I was at the park visiting the purple tradescantia I saw this saucer sized peony blossom. It was a beautiful thing to stumble upon and very easy to lose myself in for a while.  When you’re taking photos of a flower or object it’s easy to become so totally absorbed by the subject that for a time there is nothing else, not even you.

15. Rose

Do roses smell like peonies, or do peonies smell like roses? Either way we win, but I smelled a rose before I even knew what a peony was because we had a hedge full of them.

16. Fringe Tree

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that few people grow. It’s one of the last to leaf out in late spring and its fragrant hanging white flowers give it the name old man’s beard.  Male flowered trees are showier but then you don’t get the purple berries that female flowered trees bear. Birds love the fruit and if I had room I’d grow both. I’ve read that they’re very easy to grow and are pollution tolerant as well.

17. Blue Eyed Grass

I showed a photo of blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) recently but here is one with seed pods. I’ve never seen them. Blue eyed grass is in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light blue green leaves resemble grass leaves. The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

18. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Our viburnums and native dogwoods are just coming into bloom. The flowers above are on the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Each flattish flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

19. WNE

I thought I’d tell local readers that the new wildflower guide by Ted Elliman and the New England Wildflower Society is in stores. I got my copy about a week ago and I find it really clear and easy to read. It also has photos rather than line drawings, which I like and another thing I like about it is how some of the more common non-native plants are also included. Some of my own photos can be found in it as well, and I feel honored to have had them included. I hope everyone will want a copy.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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1. Flowering Raspberry

Native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) is in the rose family but they look like roses that didn’t have time to iron their petals before they put them on. Still, they are one of my favorites. Each blossom is an inch and a half to two inches across. Later a red fruit that looks like a large raspberry will form, but the fruits are on the dry side and don’t taste much like raspberries.

2. Crown Vetch 2

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is terribly invasive but also very beautiful, with its rounded clusters of pea like, purple and white flowers. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, it was imported in the 1950s to be used for erosion control and almost immediately began to spread until today it is present in every US state except North Dakota, and throughout much of Canada.

3. Mountain Laurel

June is the month when our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) bloom. The wood of this shrub twists and turns and can form dense, almost impenetrable thickets when it grows in suitable locations. An older name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

4. Mountain Laurel Front

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel have ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see a flower with relaxed anthers in the upper left part of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them. Though related to the blueberry, all parts of this plant are very toxic.

5. Mountain Laurel Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom on mountain laurels. This side vies shows the cups that the anthers fit into. The way that these flowers work to make sure that visiting insects get dusted with pollen is really amazing.

 6. Black Eyed Susan

I have mixed feelings about black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because, even though I like seeing the cheery flowers they remind me of how fast time is passing. It’s as if they mark the half-way point of the warm weather, if only in my mind.

7. Heal All

Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Its tiny flowers have an upper hood and a lower lip which are fused into a tube. Tucked up under the hood are the four stamens and forked pistil, placed perfectly so any visiting bees have to brush against them. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt.

There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

8. Yarrow

Another plant that was known well in ancient times for its medicinal qualities is common yarrow (Achillea millefolium.) It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and yarrow has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. I think yarrow must be the plant with the most common names, probably because it has been known for so long. Some of them are: Bad man’s plaything, bloodwort, carpenter’s grass, carpenter’s weed, devil’s nettle, devil’s plaything, dog daisy, fern weed, field hoop, herb militaris, knight’s milfoil, little feather, milfoil, nosebleed, old man’s pepper, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort, squirrel tail, staunch grass, staunch weed, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal, thousand-weed, and yarroway.

 9. Tulip Tree Flower

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

10. Tradescantia

Spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia virginiana) are usually blue or violet blue, but not this one-it looked very purple to me. Since I found it in a local park I wondered if it might not be a cultivar of the native plant. This plant always reminds me of my father who, when I was a young boy, used to wonder why I was “dragging all those damn weeds home.” I often found plants growing along the railroad tracks and transplanted them to our yard. This was one of my favorites, but he didn’t seem to care much for them.

 11. Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium) have started blooming. The size of the flower heads on this shrub can vary greatly depending on how shaded they are. This one was the size of a golf ball but I’ve seen some as big as a grapefruit. They are valuable plants to wildlife. Many songbirds eat the berries and beavers, rabbits, deer and moose eat the bark, twigs and leaves. What I like most about this plant is the way its leaves change colors in the fall. They can go from deep maroon to orange red to light, pastel pink and can be mottled with several different colors at once.

 12. Sulfur Cinquefoil

If you’ve ever seen sulfur then it will make perfect sense why this plant is called sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta.) The flowers are pale yellow, just like the mineral they were named for. This very hairy plant is a native of Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed in many parts of the U.S., especially in states with a lot of pastureland. Sometimes its flowers can be white or deeper yellow.

13. Wild Radish

Another sulfur colored flower is found on wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), but these blossoms have only four petals instead of five like sulfur cinquefoil. The flowers of wild radish can be white, sulfur yellow, or light purplish pink. The petals often have purple veins, but they weren’t very noticeable on the ones in this photo. I find this plant growing at the edges of cornfields.

 14. Milkweed Flowers

I could spend a lot of time and effort explaining how complicated the process of pollination is for a milkweed blossom, but I won’t do so today. That information is easily found elsewhere and I’d rather readers just appreciate the beauty of these blossoms, found on a plant that so many consider a weed not worth looking at. Sometimes by losing ourselves in the natural beauty of this world we find ourselves, and begin to see that the observer and observed are one and the same.

Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air. ~George Bernanos

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When I was growing up we had railroad tracks running almost through our back yard, so some of my earliest memories include trains. Since they passed both my and my grandmother’s house, I was walking the tracks at a young age. Recently I’ve been hiking and biking on what are now the trails where the tracks once were, and it has been like visiting the past.

1. B&M DIESEL

Big, powerful Boston and Maine Railroad diesel engines rolled by the house each afternoon hauling a seemingly endless chain of boxcars behind them.  These trains, being so close, would shake the house to its foundation. In fact, we had an earthquake once and didn’t know it because the house shook just like it did when a train was going by.

I always wanted to hop a train but my grandmother’s stories of what happened to little boys who slipped and fell under trains while trying to jump onto them were so effective at discouraging me that I never once tried it, even though I often stood just inches away as they went rolling slowly by.

2.Tracks

Things like perspective and vanishing points began to gel in my mind and become real as I walked the tracks as a boy. No longer were they just vague, mysterious concepts read about in art class. I also learned to identify many of the plants that grew along the tracks and spent a lot of time eating the raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries that I found there.

 3. Tradescantia

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) was one of my first discoveries as a boy. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time I dug this plant up from beside the tracks and brought it home to plant in the yard.  That was about the same time my father started saying that he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home.”  When I got a little older these plants got me interested in botany.

4. Rail Trail

By the time I came along the Boston and Maine railroad had been in business for more than 150 years, but things started going badly in the 1960s. By the 1980s it was over and the rails were being torn up. I didn’t mind when the trains stopped running, but it was hard to watch those rails being dismantled. Even though I never hopped a train the rails still took me places because I read about all of the places they went.

 5. Railroad Spike

Because I spent so many years of my life walking the tracks it seems very strange to walk these trails without them here. One of my first thoughts was that the kids of today would never be able to experience what I had, and that seemed like a huge loss. Before too long though, I found that there was still plenty for them to see and do on these trails. There is a lot of railroad history here, and if you do just a little bit of looking as you walk along you can see it all around you. The railroad spike in the above photo would be a worthy addition to any young boy’s treasure hoard.

 6. B&M Tie Plate

If that same young boy had a tie plate to go along with his rail spike he would be the king of show and tell. Not a whisper would be heard as he explained how a spike would be driven through each of the four square holes in the plate, deep into the hemlock ties by men with sledgehammers, to hold the rails in place.

 7. Ashuelot Trestle Winchester 9-2

Old rusty trestles  suddenly loom up out of the underbrush as you walk the trails. The Boston and Maine railroad crossed and re-crossed the Ashuelot River and groups of foolish young boys could often be seen performing very dangerous stunts on these trestles. It really is a wonder that none of us were ever killed. The trails and trestles are maintained by snowmobile and off road clubs now and have had safety railings built along their length.

 8. B&M Trestle Warning Wires

About 50 yards before each trestle on each of its ends, warning wires hung to warn anyone foolish enough to be on top of a boxcar that a trestle collision was imminent. These dangling wires are steel and about the same diameter as a pencil, so getting hit in the face by one while on top of a train going even 10 miles per hour would have hurt, badly. It would have been better than the alternative though, which was the steel crossbar of the trestle.

9. Timber Frame Bridge Support

Steel wasn’t the only material used for trestles and bridges. These twelve by twelve inch timbers still hold up the street bridge that passes over the rails. If I had known this was here when I was a boy I would have been climbing all over it, wondering how it had been built.

 10. B&M Stone Arch Bridge

This magnificent stone arch bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of them. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

I don’t think I’ve been on these rail trails a single time without seeing kids walking or riding bikes along them, and that’s a good thing. There are still plenty of things here to want to learn more about. History, math, botany, model railroading, and engineering are just a few that come to mind.

And there is the headlight, shining far down the track, glinting off the steel rails that, like all parallel lines, will meet in infinity, which is after all where this train is going. ~Bruce Catton

Thanks for coming by.

 

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I thought I’d take another tour through the flower beds before they get ahead of me. Everything seems to want to bloom at once this year. Clematis is one of my favorite flowers. Nothing could be easier to grow than these virtually no maintenance vines. I planted one on each side of my front steps many years ago and haven’t really touched them since. In spite of my neglect they still reward me with flowers like that in the photo. Clematis are in the buttercup family. The well-known wild virgin’s bower is a clematis. Dianthus is a huge family of fragrant plants which carnations belong to.  Pinks like in the photo above are also dianthus, and are called pinks not because of their color but because the petal edges look like they have been trimmed with pinking shears, giving them a frilly appearance. These flowers are among the most fragrant in the garden. The leaves of garden pinks are usually a grayish blue color. Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) isn’t often seen in gardens and that’s too bad because it is a beautiful plant in the rose family that is covered with fragile looking, 5 petaled, white flowers. This plant is native to the eastern U.S. and is also called American ipecac for the purgative power of the roots, which Native Americans are said to have used. English colonials called Native Americans “bowmen” which explains the other common name. This yellow bearded Iris was given to me by a friend several years ago and is a favorite of mine.  Unfortunately it is also a favorite of Japanese beetles whose damage can be seen on the petals.  Since I don’t use pesticides, we share and learn to get along. On a bearded Iris a fringe or “beard” runs down the center of each of the three petals that fall or hang down. This is an example of a beardless iris that is most likely a yellow Siberian iris (Iris siberica.) When this flower is compared to the bearded iris it is easy to see that they are very different. Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis ) is an old fashioned garden favorite that has much larger flowers than our other native wood anemone.  This plant is also called crowfoot because of the foliage. Native Americans used this plant for many different medical reasons. When I was a boy I used to find Tradescantia, or spiderwort, growing along the railroad tracks. I’d pull them up to take home and plant in the yard along with asters, goldenrod and anything else I could find that had flowers on it. My father couldn’t understand what I wanted with those “damned old weeds.” Wouldn’t he be surprised to know that most of those “weeds” are now grown in gardens!  Tradescantia is another native that has gone to the gardens because true blue flowers are so hard to come by.  The common and well known house plant called wandering Jew is a tradescantia. Weigelia is an easy to care for shrub that is originally from Asia but has become quite common in American gardens. A little pruning to maintain its shape is all it really needs.  Weigelia flowers can come in white, yellow, lavender, red and pink. I grow the pink one seen here in my yard and the hummingbirds love it.The blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is in full bloom now and is another plant held in high regard for its hard to find clear blue color. This is another tough native plant that bees love. Black seed pods full of loose, rattling, seeds will follow the flowers. Hyssop (Hyssopus) hails from Europe and Asia and has been under cultivation for so long that it is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Exodus. In the mint family, today it is used as an herb in soups and on meats.  It is yet another plant highly valued in the garden for the blue of its blossoms. Peony (Paeonia) is a flower with a scent close to that of old fashioned rugosa roses. Much loved and used for hundreds of years in American gardens, their only drawback is their weak stems which, unless staked, will leave the flowers dragging in the mud after a rain. I’ve come across old field stone cellar holes along long forgotten, overgrown roads that still have peonies blooming in what was once the front yard. Plants have been known to last for well over 100 years. Here is the owner of the scent that peonies seem to mimic. I grew up with a hedge of Rugosa roses in the yard and the fragrance of so many blooms was almost too much to bear. Unfortunately Japanese beetles love this flower and come from miles around to feed on the blooms, which is why it is almost impossible to find a blossom without damage.  If you have ever smelled the fragrance packet on a Japanese beetle trap then you know what Rosa rugosa smells like. This rose is originally from Asia. I thought this white peony that was just opening was a beautiful thing to behold. If a white peony is floated in a bowlful of water into which a few drops of red food coloring have been added, the flower will absorb the colored water and the veins in each petal will be seen. Peonies have been grown in Asian gardens for thousands of years.

In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.~ Kakuzō Okakura

That’s it for this trip through the garden. Isn’t it interesting how many native plants we have adopted to grow in our gardens?  Thanks for visiting.

 

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