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Posts Tagged ‘Trailing Arbutus’

We’ve had a colder week with daytime temps in the 40s and nighttime temps in the 20s and though it has slowed a lot of flowers down it hasn’t stopped them, as this new red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossom shows. Red (or purple) trilliums are our earliest, followed by nodding and then painted trilliums. Red trilliums are also one of our largest spring ephemeral flowers. Everything about them is in threes.

From one of the largest spring ephemerals to one of the smallest; goldthread plants have just started blooming. The shiny, three part leaves and small, aspirin size flowers are sure signs that you’ve found goldthread.

There’s a lot going on in a goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) blossom, despite its small size. The tiny styles curve like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens fill the center of a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club-like true petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar.

I was dismayed to find that, as I was crawling around trying to get a photo of goldthread, my foot inadvertently pulled up a plant. Well, I thought, at least we’ll be able to see the golden root, and here it is in the photo above. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. I can tell you that many tens of thousands of plants would have had to have been destroyed to make up a pound of roots, because this one weighed next to nothing. Dry, it would have weighed even less. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) blossomed in a sunny spot on a lawn. Ground ivy was introduced into North America as an ornamental and medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent. But nobody seems to mind. The purple flowers have a very light minty scent that isn’t at all overpowering unless you mow down a large patch that has taken over the lawn. This is one of those flowers that takes me back to my childhood, because it grew everywhere that I did.

I don’t remember ever seeing henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) when I was a boy but it must have been here. It was reported in New York’s Hudson valley in 1751. It is another annual in the mint family and is edible.

I’ve read that small birds love the seeds of henbit and hummingbirds love their nectar. They always seem a bit clownish to me; like a cartoonist had drawn them.

If only you could smell these magnolia flowers. If the afterlife is scented surely one of those scents will come from magnolias. To sit outside on a warm spring evening with their scent in the air is something you just never forget.

As you can imagine you see a certain amount of death when you spend a lot of time in nature. Every now and then I stumble upon something that is as beautiful in death as it was in life; insects, mushrooms, and this magnolia blossom that looked as if it had been carved out of wood. I hope you too can appreciate its beauty.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is a trailing plant from Europe. It is also invasive but has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere, as the plants you see here do. it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Another name for vinca is Myrtle and that’s what I’ve always called it. It has a flower of sixes, double that of trillium.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis ) has just started blooming. Other than spring bulbs, this perennial is one of the earliest to bloom in spring. It prefers shady places so it is valuable in gardens that get little sun. During the middle ages in Europe lungwort, which is another name for the plant, was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Dandelions are having a great year so far. I’ve never seen them bloom so profusely.

Just look at all of those seed heads in waiting.

I’m seeing more and more trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) each year and that’s a good thing, because it was once over collected almost to the point of oblivion. My grandmother always called this, her favorite flower, mayflower. She always wanted to show it to me but back then it was so scarce we could never find any.

Violas are loving the cool weather. All plants in the pansy family can take a lot of cold and that’s why they’re an early spring staple for window boxes and flower pots. They chase away the winter blues that so many seem to suffer from.

Here is another look at the beautiful bulb bed that I showed in the last flower post. It’s just about done now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) has just come into bloom and before long it will be in bloom everywhere I go. Creeping phlox is native to the forests of North America. Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera, native to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

One way to tell Phlox subulata from stolonifera is to look for the darker band of color around the center of each flower; only Phlox subulata has it. Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox or moss pinks.

Hellebores are another plant that can stand a lot of cold. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I can’t even guess how such a belief would have gotten started.

This is a fine example of why I can sometimes kneel in front of a flower and have no idea how long I’ve been there.

My grandmother taught me that it was best to cut lilacs and bring them to her when the flowers just started to open. In that way all the  other buds would open inside so she could enjoy their fragrance longer. I would watch them closely and when just a few blossoms showed I’d bring them in to her. They seem to be doing well this year. In fact many plants are doing better than they have in a long time.

It’s time to say goodbye to the vernal witch hazels. What joy they’ve brought to spring,

A redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis) showed me how it got its name. Eastern redbud  is not native to New Hampshire but I do find them here and there. Do to the cold weather this one has refused to go beyond bud. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted.

I hoped to show you some trout lily blossoms in this post but they’re being stubborn so instead I’ll show you the spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) that grow with them. They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them.

This is what a forest floor covered by spring beauties looks like. It’s a rare sight, and is one I’ve been wanting to show you for years. It isn’t a great shot but it gives you an idea of what forest flowers look like. Once the leaves come out on the trees, their short lives are over. And I will miss them.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that was to prove very true last Sunday. I followed a rail trail in Swanzey that I’ve followed more times than I can count but saw many things that I’ve never seen here before.

Male American Hazelnut catkins swayed lazily in the slight breeze. They had lengthened to three times their winter length and were still heavy with pollen.

The tiny female flowers were waiting for a good dose of that pollen so they could become the hazelnuts that so many birds and animals eat.

There is a nice little box culvert out here that I always like to stop and see. There was quite a lot of water in the stream it carries safely under the railbed on this day. It’s amazing to think these culverts are still keeping railbeds from washing away 150 years after they were built, and without any real maintenance.

The stream rushes off to the Ashuelot River, which is out there in the distance.

The first thing I saw that I had never seen here were trout lily leaves (Erythronium americanum). I didn’t see any flowers but I found the leaves growing all along the trail, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t ever seen them.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail. This was where I was to get another surprise. I saw something swimming quickly toward me from those fallen trees you see in this photo. I thought it was ducks but I couldn’t see anything except ripples.

And then up popped a muskrat. At least I’m fairly certain it was a muskrat. Though it never showed me its tail it was much smaller than a beaver and nowhere near as skittish. It saw me up on the embankment but still just sat and fed on what looked like grasses. It probably knew I was far enough away; this photo isn’t very good because my camera was at the limit of its zoom capability. At least you can see the critter, and that matters more to me than a technically perfect shot.

I knew that apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grew here and I was able to find it. Its reproduction begins in the late fall and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warm rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.

Beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) are beginning to lose their straightness and that means the beautiful new spring leaves will be appearing before long. Beech bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the new leaves can emerge. The buds literally “break” and at the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

New maple leaves were everywhere but every one I saw was green. That was unusual because young maple leaves are often red for a while.  

Raspberry plants were also showing their new leaves but blackberry buds had barely broken.

I saw native cherries in all stages of growth. Cherries usually leaf out and blossom quite early.

Some of the willows along the trail had thrown in the towel and were finished for this year.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing. I can’t remember ever seeing them bloom along this trail but there they were.

Forsythia has escaped someone’s garden and was blooming happily beside the trail. Another surprise.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear, but here they were blooming beside the trail. This is another plant I can’t remember ever seeing out here before. Trailing arbutus was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. The reason it was collected so much was because its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers were used in nosegays.

I reached the trestle and found that someone, most likely a snowmobile club, had overlaid the flooring, which was starting to rot out. This was a another welcome surprise because that little square that juts out to the right was a hole right through the boards. It’s quite a drop down to the river.

This trestle is the last one I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I can walk from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

The river has come up some since the recent snowfall and a few rain showers. I was surprised I didn’t see any kayakers. They like to paddle the river in spring when the water is high because in that way they can float over all the submerged fallen trees.

It still has to gain more run off before it reaches its average height, by the looks. We’re still in a drought according to the weather people.

I was surprised to find a small colony of bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) as I was leaving. This is another plant I’ve never seen growing here, so this day was packed full of surprises.

Bloodroot flowers don’t usually open on cloudy days and I couldn’t tell if this one was opening or closing, but I was happy to get at least a glimpse of its beautiful inside. These flowers aren’t with us long.

In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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I’ve seen some really stunning photos coming from smartphones lately so since it was time for me to get a new one I spent quite a lot of time researching which one had the best camera for the money. By the end of this post I hope you’ll agree that I made a good choice; the tiny mushroom in the photo above was hardly bigger than a pea. Yes this phone does macro photography, and it does it well.

Tiny bird’s nest fungi weren’t much of a challenge for the phone but depth of field was slightly off. I think that was my fault more than the phone’s though.

I was splitting wood at work and there, deep inside a piece of oak, was this mushroom mycelium. I was lucky I had a phone with me that could see it and get a half way decent photo of it. I always love finding mycelium because I never know what my imagination will have me see in it. You might see a river delta. Or a tree. Or bird feathers. Or you might see the vast one-ness from which all life arises. Whatever you see in it let it be beautiful; let it reflect the beauty that is inside you.

One of the haircap mosses, either mountain or juniper haircap moss I believe, peeked out from under a dome of paper thin ice. This is a male moss and you can tell that by its color and by the tiny male reproductive structures called antheridia, which look like tiny flowers scattered here and there.

And here was a female haircap moss with its spore capsules almost ready to release their spores. There was a breeze this day and the phone camera didn’t freeze the movement of the capsules as much as I would have hoped but something about this photo grabs me so I’ve added it here, slightly blurred capsules and all. It’s a mouse eye view of the landscape with a certain minimalistic Japanese feel to it, and maybe that’s why I like it.

This bristly beard lichen growing on a white pine is another photo where the depth of field was slightly off and I think it’s happening because I’m getting too close. In fact the phone has told me to “back up for better focus”. But I’ll learn; I’m used to taking photos with my Olympus macro camera, where I can be almost touching the subject. A bristly beard lichen has isidia, which appear as little bumps along its branches. An isidium is a reproductive structure common to some lichens and their presence is a good identifier.

This liverwort, called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata) was about 3/4 of an inch across and grew on a tree, and I thought the phone handled it well. I’ve read that this liverwort is common on trees and shrubs but I rarely see it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses. It has round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. This liverwort is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees and shrubs they grow on. ­­They simply perch on them, like birds.

Color reproduction seems to be quite accurate with this phone but beware that this is coming from one who is colorblind. Still, even someone colorblind can see the difference between the hemlock in the foreground and the one beside it, because the one in the foreground is “artificially” colored by Trentepohlia algae. I don’t think I’ve seen this much algae on a single tree before. I wonder how it chooses which trees to grow on and I wonder why, in this case, it hasn’t spread to other trees.

Here is a phone camera macro look at algae on a different tree.

Tiny lichens are a big part of the content on this blog so of course I had to see what the phone could do with them. Again, I think I was a bit too close to this one but I was impressed with the camera. This lichen was only about a half inch across.

In this photo I backed the phone away from the subject lichen and the shot came out much better. This lichen was about half the size of the previous one but it came out much sharper so I’ve got to watch out for getting too close.

Compared to the lichens these alder catkins were huge but the phone camera handled them well, even in a breeze.

I wanted to show something that everyone reading this would know the size of, so for that I chose lilac buds. This is an excellent example of what this phone can do.

The bud of a Norway maple is not something everyone will recognize but they are slightly smaller than the lilac buds.

If you’ve ever wondered why woodpeckers spend so much time drilling into trees, this is why. This yellow insect larva was deep inside a red oak log, seen only when I split it. The tiny creature was about the diameter of a piece of spaghetti and maybe an inch long.

This is just simple stream ice but it was beautiful, I thought.

Of course I had to try plants with the phone camera and it did well on this trailing arbutus. I didn’t want to kneel in the snow so I just bent down and clicked. This phone is said to use a kind of artificial intelligence chip that I don’t fully understand, and it said to be able to compute very fast. In fact I’ve read that some phones can do 5 trillion operations per second.  Speed is one thing, but this phone seems to know or sense what you want before you tell it what you want and I find that a bit odd, if not unsettling. It’s almost like having an assistant who does all the work for you.

Here were the dried flower heads of sweet everlasting. There was a breeze on this day and once again the phone handled it well.

The color red is a challenge for any camera so I thought I’d try some holly berries. The phone camera once again did well, I thought. I like the detail that came through on the leaves as well.

Boston ivy berries (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) are about as big as a small pea, so while I was walking past them while going in for a haircut I thought I’d see what the phone could do with them. I was happy with the shot. Boston ivy isn’t a true ivy and it isn’t from Boston but it is pretty on buildings, especially in the fall when its leaves turn bright red. True ivy belongs to the genus Hedera but Boston ivy is the ivy that lends its name to ivy league universities.

The phone camera seems to do well on landscapes as well. It also has a “night vision mode” but I didn’t use it for this shot of a stream I pass on my way to work early each morning.

The phone tells me I was 11 meters (36 feet) from this tree when I took it’s photo. Why it thinks I need to know that is a mystery. I would have fumbled around with my camera settings for several minutes for this shot, trying to keep the trees light and the clouds dark, but the camera phone did it in two shots without my changing any settings.

This shot looking up a pine tree was taken in almost full darkness, well after sundown and with twilight almost gone. When you push the shutter button on the phone you can hear the shutter click twice when it’s in night vision mode and the photo comes out like this. How it does this is unknown to me as yet. I wanted to show you a dark sky full of bright stars but it has been cloudy every night since I bought the phone.

This shot, taken before sunup early in the morning, was the first shot I ever took with the new phone. I suppose I should give you the name of this phone after putting you through all of this, shouldn’t I? It’s a Google Pixel 4A, 5G and for the same money, according to the reviews I’ve read, no other phone camera can touch it. I find that it is especially useful in low light situations but I also find it a bit awkward to hold a phone while taking photos. I’m certainly happy with it but I think I need more practice. I’m guessing that when the newness wears off it will become just another tool in my tool kit; a camera I can speak into.

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
~Marshall McLuhan

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I thought I’d start this post about evergreens with something you probably don’t associate with the word, but in fact we do have a few ferns that stay green all winter and are considered evergreen. Some more common ones are the Eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) and a few others. As this post will show, if you are willing to look closely you’ll find that there is quite a lot of green still out there in winter.

Clubmosses are one of our most noticeable evergreens in winter once it snows, but they aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall. But that was a very long time ago; the tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) in the above photo is barely 3 inches high. It shows the upright yellow spore bearing strobili, sometimes called candles or clubs that give the plants their common names. The plant is also called ground-pine because of its resemblance to the pine tree. Clubmoss spores have been collected and dried to make flash powder for many years. They are high in fat content and when mixed with air become highly flammable. They’ve been used in fireworks and explosives for years, and also as camera flashes before flash bulbs were invented. These days they are still used in magic acts and chemistry classes. They also repel water, so if dip your finger in a glass of water that has spores floating on it, your finger will come out dry.

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed.

Something that is always a surprise to see in the woods here is a northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) I don’t know if it was a garden escapee or not but they don’t grow naturally here that I know of. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. This plant was a small seedling barely 6 inches tall. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy.

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant. It has made a good comeback now and I see lots of it.

Usually when I do an evergreen post in winter I don’t show the flowers but that leaves me feeling like I’ve cheated you, so this time I’ll show you the flowers. All the flower photos were taken previously, of course. I like the tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens on a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club like petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. 

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This plant was once collected into near oblivion but these days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of many of these native evergreens, in fact.

The reason trailing arbutus was collected so much was because of its small pink to white, very fragrant flowers. My grandmother loved this plant and she always wanted to show it to me but we could never find it back then. I see it now here and there.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

Swamp dewberry’s flower is quite pretty but its fruit is said to be sour and that is the reason it isn’t cultivated. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) grows in large colonies and is easy to find because of its shiny green leaves that shine winter and summer and last up to 4 years. Like other wintergreens it likes dry, sandy, undisturbed soil in pine forests. Pipsissewa was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its name is fun to say. It’s a Native American Cree word meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces.” This is because it was used as a treatment for kidney stones and was thought to break them into pieces.

I think I actually gasped the first time I found this large colony of pipsissewa in bloom. I remember kneeling there admiring the rare and beautiful sight for quite some time. It is things like this that keep me wandering through the woods, never knowing what I might stumble across.

Pipsissewa flowers often show a blush of pink. Five petals and ten chubby anthers surrounding a plump center pistil make it prettier than most of our other native wintergreens. Pipsissewa and some other native wintergreens form a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and are partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like native orchids.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, gets its common name from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. Like several other wintergreens it contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments.

Shinleaf’s nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and usually appear near the end of June or into July. I find them in sandy soiled forests under pines.

American wintergreen is probably the easiest of all the forest floor evergreens to identify because it is so common. It is also called teaberry, and that name comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. The leaves contain compounds similar to those found in aspirin though, so anyone allergic to aspirin should leave them alone. Though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. 

American wintergreen’s blossoms look a lot like tiny blueberry blossoms.

Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries. If you’re really lucky you might get to eat a small handful before the critters find them. They were one of the first wild fruits I ever ate and I still remember what they taste like; Clark’s Teaberry Gum.

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter but as of this photo it hadn’t happened to this plant yet. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers most of them flower but don’t set seed.  The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

The flowers of striped wintergreen stand out and help me locate the well camouflaged plants, so I begin looking for them in mid-July just as shinleaf is ending its bloom period.

The flower of striped wintergreen has 5 petals that are swept back, as if it had seen a strong wind. It also has 10 anthers but its style is very blunt. I’m hoping the small fly on the blossom was pollinating this plant.

Leatherleaf is a knee high shrub that gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides and turn purple in the winter. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. 

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf  for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat fevers, headaches and inflammation but it is said that the leaves contain a toxin called andromedotoxin which is released when they’re heated so they’re probably best left alone.

Well, if nothing else I hope this post has expanded your idea of what an evergreen is. Though many of us think of trees like the young spruce in the above photo when we hear the word evergreen the list of plants that can be called evergreen is quite long and involves many species. We even have evergreen orchids.

It is only in winter that the pine and cypress are known to be evergreens. ~Confucius

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I was going to climb a hill last Saturday but it felt quite warm at 55 degrees, so I went to the lake instead. This is Swanzey Lake, one of many lakes in the area. Since it is relatively close to Keene you can usually expect the swimming area on the east side of the lake to be packed with children on a sunny summer day. I spent many wonderful hours swimming and playing here as a boy. There were even bathrooms and a snack bar.

If it rained you could go into the hall but there wasn’t really much of anything to do other than sit and wait for the rain to stop.

On this day the water was low because of the drought so the beach was twice as wide as it usually is. I swam here regularly as a boy but I had a blockage in my mind that told me I couldn’t swim in deep water, even though I swam fine in shallow water. My cousin, who was a lifeguard, told me “Don’t say you can’t swim. I’ve seen you do it; you swim like a fish.” He said that just before he dropped me into the deep end of a swimming pool, and it was a good thing he was a lifeguard because I swam like a stone and had to be rescued before I drowned. Only after I surrendered to the fact that I would never swim for real did the paralyzing fear melt away so I could finally swim in deep water. I didn’t have many opportunities to show it off here though; the water goes out 30 feet before it is over an adult’s head and a swimming area was always roped off for younger children. There was a lifeguard that made sure you stayed inside the ropes as well.

I discovered that watching ripples through a camera lens is completely mesmerizing.

A large bird with big feet walked all over the sand of the beach. I thought it might be a heron but I don’t know for certain.

You get down to the beach by following a paved downhill driveway, and rainwater washes down the driveway with such force that it creates deep gullies in the beach. I would have thought that it would have been fixed by now but no. It has been going on since I was a boy and I found myself wondering how much sand had washed into the lake in all that time.

If it weren’t for the fact that the swimming area has been developed the forest would grow right down to the water’s edge. There is a small area that is still forested and some quite large white pines grow there. They are lichen covered, with the ones that want the most humidity like these shield lichens growing on the side toward the lake.

There are a few trees just at the beach start and their roots have become quite exposed, both by years of small foot traffic and the washing of the water.

I was very surprised to find trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing among the tree roots. Trailing arbutus is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. It seemed to be doing well here in full sun, even though I usually find it in shady areas.

Horsehair lichens (Bryoria trichodes) and others grow on the sides of the trees opposite the water, which tells me they must need a little less humidity. Since it has rained little lately these lichens were very dry. Beard and hair lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution and will only grow where the air quality is high. Deer, moose and squirrels eat this lichen and there are stories of deer rushing out of the forest and eating it out of the tops of felled spruce trees while loggers with chainsaws were still cutting the trees up.

An old tree stump was covered with American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) plants. They are also called teaberry or checkerberry and their small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. They also chewed the leaves for refreshment on long hikes.

Cushion mosses grew under an alder. White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

What could be better than green grass on November 21st in New Hampshire? Not that long ago you could ice skate in November.

This toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is very special to me because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a mountaintop. Toadskin lichens show dramatic color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

I left the beach and went down the road just a bit to the boat launch. I used to fish here with my daughter and son when they were younger and I still see many people doing the same in the summer. We always hoped for lake trout but got sunfish instead.

The black line on that boulder shows the normal water level. I’d say it was down about a foot and a half which, when spread over the surface of the entire lake, is an awful lot of water lost.

I was surprised to see water still flowing over the dam but it was really just a trickle when compared to a normal water height.

Someone built a fine new bridge over the spillway. I stood on it to take that previous photo.

Mallards didn’t mind the low water level. In fact it probably made it easier for them to find food. There was quite a large group of them and I was surprised that they didn’t fly away when they saw me. Mallards are often very skittish in these parts, I think because nobody feeds them.

There is a large grassy area where people can sit and picnic. I sat here for awhile and enjoyed the sound of the waterfall while I watched the ducks. To sit by the water on a green lawn in the warm sunshine without a coat on in November while listening to the birds sing is a great gift.

What I think was a winter oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on a tree. Its upturned gills made them easy to admire. This example was dying but I often find that mushrooms are often as beautiful in death as they are in life. The color and movement that this one showed were beautiful.

On another stump there was quite a crop of them. You have to watch what you’re doing at all times when foraging for mushrooms but especially the “winter mushrooms”, because the cold can change their color. We’ve had nights in the teens and I’m sure these examples had probably been frozen and had darkened because of it. They might have also been the late oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus).

This one looked very fresh. I think it was a late oyster because of the yellow orange gill color. Late oysters aren’t considered as choice as winter oysters here but the Japanese consider them a great delicacy.

And this little mushroom had found a place to get out of the cold winds. I’m not sure what it was but I admired its pluck.

The strangest thing I saw this day was this willow shedding its bud scales and showing its “pussies.” The only guess I have is that it was fooled by the warm weather after the cold we had. Plants can be fooled by such things and they usually pay for it by not being able to produce seeds the following year.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day. 

A few of the many things I have to be thankful for this year are:
The neighbor’s rooster. I love hearing him crow each morning when I leave for work.
The wonderful smell of woodsmoke I smell each day on the way home as I drive by a barbecue restaurant.
The time change; the sunrises have been beautiful on my way to work.
And I’m most thankful for the fact that nobody I know has gotten sick. I do hope all of you can say the same.

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After a warmer weekend many plants are responding and more flower buds are opening. At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

I put a single leatherleaf blossom on a penny so you could get an idea of their size. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and a leatherleaf blossom is about half the size of a blueberry blossom.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally bloomed, about a week later than average but it seems longer. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. To think that the first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

I think my favorite part of a trout lily blossom is the back of the petals, which are tinted with maroon. They’re very pretty flowers no matter how you see them.

Spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) must like the cool damp weather because most plants still have buds, even though they’ve been blooming for about a month. This photo shows the variations in color. There are plants that can take me out of myself and cause a shift in my perception of time so that I often have no idea how long I’ve been kneeling before them, and spring beauty is one of them. How could you not lose yourself in something so beautiful?

I’ve never seen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) bloom like it is this year and as I visited this colony I wished my grandmother could have seen it. She called them Mayflowers and she always wanted to show them to me, but we could never find them. She loved their scent and so did Native Americans, who though this plant had divine origins.

Each trailing arbutus flower has a tiny yellow star in its center.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. Two days before these photos were taken these plants had no leaves opened.  

You can see how wild ginger’s unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of. For this one I turned on my camera’s onboard LED light. Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) have just started blooming and if the pollinators do their job each flower will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful. The full moon in the month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454, so they’ve been with us a long time.

Spring, like fall, starts on the forest floor with the spring ephemeral flowers and then it moves to the understory before finally reaching the treetops. Now is the time for the understory trees and shrubs to start blooming and one of the earliest is the shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis.)

Naturalists and botanists have been arguing for years over the many native shadbush species and hybrids. The 5 white flower petals can appear quite different in each, but none of the several variations that I’ve seen have had blossoms bigger than a nickel. All of them seem to have multiple large stamens. Shadbushes bloom earlier than the other shrubs and trees but are often still in bloom when the others bloom. The flowers appear before the leaves, unlike apples and some native cherries. Small, reddish purple to purple, apple shaped fruits follow in June. The fruit is a berry similar in size to a blueberry and has from 5-10 seeds. They taste best when they are more purple than red. Shadbush flowers are pretty but their fragrance isn’t very appealing.

This is what the flower buds of a shadbush look like. After shadbushes come the cherries, closely followed by the crab apples and apples, and then the peaches and plums. 

I’m finally seeing blue /  purple violets, about two weeks after I saw the first white one.

The deep purple lines on violet petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

Lots of sedges are still blooming. The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the butter yellow, terminal male (staminate) flowers.

I can’t think of anything much more delicate than female sedge flowers. They are living threads.

When you see these little black spearpoints sticking up out of what looks like grass you’ve found a sedge. Come back in a day or two and you’ll see flowers much like those in the previous two photos.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) grow naturally in forests so they are plants that like cool, shady locations. They’ll go dormant quickly when it gets hot and they can leave a hole in the garden but that trait is easily forgiven. It’s one of the oldest perennials in cultivation and it is called old fashioned bleeding heart. I’ve always liked them and they were one of the first flowers I chose for my own garden.

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

Dead nettle flowers always look like they have a chicken popping up out of them to me. They sort of resemble snapdragons but are in the mint family.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is staying safe and able to spend time outside.

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I finally, after 6 or 7 attempts, caught bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) in full bloom. Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot isn’t with us long and in fact a few of these flowers had already lost petals, but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They’re blooming just a little early this year.

Bloodroot petals have very fine, almost invisible veins in them and if you don’t have your camera settings just right you won’t see them in your photos. When they’re in bright sunlight the veins disappear, so I shaded this flower with my body and boosted the ISO settings on the camera so I could catch them. It’s not an easy flower to do well but with practice and a little luck you can show it at its most beautiful.

Ornamental cherry trees are blooming and I’ve seen both white flowers and pink ones. These trees often blossom far too early and end up getting frost bitten, and I saw a few brown petals on this tree. Our native cherries will be along in May.

Ornamental cherries do have beautiful, if over anxious, flowers. They are one of our earliest blooming trees, usually coming along with the magnolias.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) have pretty plum colored anthers but that’s about all this tree has going for it. Originally from central Asia and the Middle East the tree was introduced by the USDA in  1966 as a near perfect ornamental urban landscape tree, loaded with pretty white blossoms in spring and shiny green leaves the rest of the time. Even Ladybird Johnson promoted it but problems quickly became evident; the tree has weak wood and loses branches regularly, and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And the pretty flowers? Their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin, so whatever you do don’t plant a Bradford pear. I smelled this one before I saw it so you might say I followed my nose right to it.

Insects don’t seem to mind the smell.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis) is an old fashioned but pretty evergreen garden plant that originally hails from Europe and Asia. The silver mottled leaves were once thought to resemble a diseased lung and so its common name became lungwort. People thought it would cure respiratory ailments like bronchitis and the leaves were and still are used medicinally in tinctures and infusions. The leaves and flowers are edible, and if you’ve ever had vermouth you’ve had a splash of pulmonaria because it is one of the ingredients. The plant does well in shade and has flowers of blue, pink, white, purple and red.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is now approaching full bloom. Though this plant isn’t a native it might as well be because it is much loved. In fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. Neighbors have been passing it to neighbors for hundreds of years, and I find it growing out in the middle of nowhere quite regularly.

What looks like a 5 petaled flower on a vinca plant is actually one tubular flower with 5 lobes, as this photo shows. Vinca contains the alkaloid vincamine, which is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a cerebral stimulant. It has been used to treat dementia caused by low blood flow to the brain. It’s origin is probably Europe and one of its common names is “Flower of death” because of the way it was once planted on the graves of infants. Too bad that such a pretty flower has to have such a morbid connection but in truth many flowers are associated with death. I once worked for a lady who refused to grow gladioli because they were so commonly used at funerals.

I love the color of this magnolia bud. I believe the variety name is “Jane.” If so its flowers will be tulip shaped.

Sometimes lilac buds look like they’ve been frosted with sugar. It’ll be so nice to smell those flowers again.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom and these are the first blossoms I’ve seen. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected and nearly obliterated but I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them.

The inside of a trailing arbutus blossom is very hairy and also extremely fragrant.

I found lots of viola plants (Viola tricolor) under a tree one day, all blooming their hearts out. Viola blossoms are about half the size of a pansy blossom but every bit as colorful and the plants usually have more flowers than a pansy plant will. Pansies were derived from violas so all pansies are in fact violas but plant breeders have worked on them for years and pansies come in a wider range of colors. I love them because they are very cold hardy and appear early in spring when not much else is in bloom.

I had to go back for another look at the female lime green box elder flowers (Acer negundo.) They were even more beautiful than they were last week. The female flowers appear along with the leaves, and you can see a new leaf or two here as well.

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from long filaments, and aren’t very showy. Each reddish male flower has tan pollen-bearing stamens that are so small I can’t see them. The pollen is carried by the wind to female trees and once they’ve shed their pollen the male flowers dry up and drop from the tree. It’s common to see the ground covered with them under male trees.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples but this year they’re blooming quite early. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire but the genie is out of the bottle and they are everywhere.

It’s tough to isolate a single Norway maple flower in such a large cluster but I always try, just so you can see what they look like. This is a male (staminate) flower. They have 8 stamens, five petals, five sepals, and a greenish central disc. They’re quite different from any other native maple.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in parts of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo, taken years ago, shows what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

I’m seeing a lot more white violets than purple this year and that’s a little odd because it’s usually the other way around. I’d love to see some yellow ones but they’re rare here.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) is also called wild oats and the plants have just come into bloom. They are a spring ephemeral and won’t last long but they do put on a show when they carpet a forest floor, despite their small size. They are a buttery yellow color which in my experience is always difficult to capture with a camera.

In this case the word sessile describes how the leaves lie flat against the stem with no stalk. The leaves are also elliptic and are wider in the middle than they are on either end. The spring shoots remind me of Solomon’s seal but the plant is actually in the lily of the valley family.

And just look what has finally come Into the light; one of our largest and most beautiful spring wildflowers. Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) is also called wake robin, because its bloom time once heralded the return of the robins. The flowers have no nectar and are thought to be pollinated by flies and beetles. Their petals have an unpleasant odor that is said to be similar to spoiled meat, and this entices the flies and beetles to land and pollinate them. As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple. Their stay is all too brief but when they fade they’ll be followed by nodding trilliums (Trillium cernuum) and then painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum,) both of which are also very beautiful.

Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music.  They relax the tenseness of the mind. They dissolve its vigor. ~Henry Ward Beecher.

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is doing well and will continue on that way.

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Since it has been so cool here over the past week or so flowers that looked like they were ready to open a week ago still haven’t, but that doesn’t hold true for the magnolias which are now in full bloom.

This one is one of my favorites. I like the purple on the backs of its petals.

These orange tulips, the first I’ve seen this year, bloomed in a very weedy bed.

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) bloomed in different colors this week. I looked closely and saw that there were only one or two flowers per stem, even though it looks like many more. I know of only one place to find these spring bulbs.

The scilla is beautiful this year. A mild winter seems to suit it well.

Many Forsythias have come into bloom, including this old overgrown example. It’s a hard shrub to keep up with but it blooms better if you do.

Japanese andromeda blossoms (Pieris japonica) look like tiny pearlescent glass fairy lights topped with gilded ormolu mounts, worthy of the art nouveau period. Japanese andromeda is an ornamental evergreen shrub that is very popular, and you can see why. Some think the blossoms resemble lily of the valley so another common name for the plant is lily of the valley shrub. Some varieties have beautiful red leaves on their new shoots.

I’ve seen exactly one horsetail so far this spring and this is it. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

This horsetail had just started to open, revealing its spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the sporangia. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I should see many more of these as the season progresses, because they usually grow in large groups.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) have appeared. They always remind me of rocket ships when they first come up.

False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants growing in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. They have small green flowers later in summer but I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

For those who have never seen false hellebore flowers, here are some I found a few years ago. The small flowers aren’t much to look at, but it’s easy to see that the plant is in the lily family by their shape. These flowers are the same color green as the rest of the plant but have bright yellow anthers. There are nectar producing glands that ants feed on and when they do, they pollinate the flowers. These plants are hard to find in flower because they do so only when they are mature, which means ten years or more old. When they do blossom they do so erratically, so you never really know what you’ll find. When they finally bloom they carry hundreds of flowers in large, branched terminal clusters.

I usually see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blooming with spring beauties but this year even the leaves seem late; spring beauties have been blooming for two weeks. This plant takes its common name from its leaves, which are speckled like the body of a trout. The flowers will probably have appeared by next weekend and there should be many thousands of them in this spot.

A clump of sedge doesn’t look like much until you look closely. I think most people see it as just another weed that looks like coarse grass, but it can be beautiful when it flowers.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is blooming early this year; they usually bloom along with trout lilies. The female flowers look like tiny, wispy white feathers and they appear lower down on the stem, beneath the male flowers. What is odd about this plant is that the female flowers usually appear before the cream colored male flowers. That’s to ensure that they will receive pollen from a different plant and be cross pollinated. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little flower that is well worth a second look.

For me flowers often have memories attached, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) always reminds me of my grandmother. She said that no other flower could match its fragrance and that was high praise, because she knew her flowers. We used to look for them when I was a small boy but I can’t remember ever finding any with her. That’s probably because so many of them were dug up by people who erroneously thought that they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens. The plant grows in a close relationship with fungi present in the soil and is nearly impossible to successfully transplant, so I hope they’ll be left alone.

All I’ve seen of trailing arbutus so far are these buds, but it won’t be long. The fragrant blossoms were once so popular for nosegays it was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is now protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. Several Native American tribes used the plant medicinally. It was thought to be particularly useful for breaking up kidney stones and was considered so valuable it was said to have divine origins. Its fragrance is most certainly heavenly and I’m looking forward to smelling them again.

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) usually start blooming during the last week of April, so this plant is a little early this year. Its unusual paired flowers branch off from a single stem and if pollinated will become joined pairs of reddish orange fruit shaped much like a football, with pointed ends. Many songbirds love its fruit so this is a good shrub to plant when trying to attract them. I see it growing along the edges of the woods but it can be hard to find, especially when it isn’t blooming. This photo shows the buds, which were just opening.

The whitish feathery things seen here are the female pistils of the American elm (Ulmus americana.) If the wind brings it pollen from male anthers each female flower will form small, round, flat, winged seeds called samaras. I remember them falling by the many millions when I was a boy; raining down enough so you couldn’t even see the color of the road beneath them. You can still see the shriveled, blackish male flowers in this flower cluster as well.

I’m at a loss as to how to explain what these are. I know they’re maple seeds (samaras) forming but I don’t know if they’re red or silver maple seeds. For a while I was fairly sure they were silver maple but after looking in several books and spending hours searching online over the years, I’ve had no luck finding anything like them, so it will have to come down to leaf shape. Once I see the leaves I’ll know for sure because they’re very different between the two species.

These I’m sure of. They are the female flowers of a red maple (Acer rubrum) becoming seeds, and they look very different than the ones in the previous photo.

On some trees the male staminate red maple flowers are still going strong, but on others they’ve passed. Staggered bloom times helps ensure thorough pollination, and it does work well because there are many millions of seeds falling each year.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant from Europe, but it was brought over so long ago that many people think it’s a native. In the 1800s it was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies and I’ve found all three still blooming beautifully around old cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere, as this plant was. I never knew that the flowers untwisted themselves from the bud as this one was doing. Spirals are found all through nature, even inside the human body, and here is another one.

Some of the plants you’ve seen in this post grow near this beaver pond, which was nearly as pretty as the flowers I was searching for, in my opinion. I hope you think so too.

Flowers carry not only beauty but also the silent song of love. You just have to feel it. ~Debasish Mridha

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone had a very happy and safe Easter.

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Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

I saw the first Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) plants of the year and I was surprised to see them blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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Blooming everywhere in lawns right now is one of our lawn loving wildflowers: bluets (Houstonia caerulea.) These tiny, 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them, yards in width and length are common. Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed.

I can’t think of much that is cheerier than a colony of bluets in the lawn. They seem to have somehow figured out how to stay just short of the grass height so their flowers don’t get mowed off. Either that or they regrow very quickly. I always try to find the darkest blue flowers in the colony and these got the prize on this day. They can range from deep blue to almost white.

I thought coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) had finished already but I keep running into them. This is one plant that I search high and low for in early spring but can never find, and a little later on it seems to be everywhere. This one had an odd fringe of something under the flower. I don’t know if they were bracts or something else, but I’ve never seen them before. Coltsfoot leaves, for those who don’t know, appear once the flowers have died off so for right now all you see is flowers and no leaves.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) weren’t quite ready for this post but in another week those greenish sterile flowers will be a beautiful bright white and all those buds in the center will be smaller, fertile flowers that are also white. This is one of our most beautiful spring flowering shrubs. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster.

Bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) are with us for such a short time. This small group hasn’t even been up for a week and already the flowers are shattering. It’s a member of the poppy family, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. None of that family seems to last very long.

Luckily bloodroot colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I found another small colony that hadn’t bloomed yet so hopefully I can show these flowers the way they deserve to be seen. When they’re at this stage they always look like they have wrapped themselves in a cloak to me. Of course the cloak is the plant’s single leaf. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the reddish orange sap that bleeds from its root when it’s cut. Native Americans used the sap as a dye for baskets, clothing, and as war paint, as well as for an insect repellent.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Quite often you’ll find that the pair of fly honeysuckle flowers are themselves part of a pair, dangling at the branch ends.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire. Where I work a large group of squirrels attacks our lone Norway maple each spring, gnawing off every single seed before they can mature. How they know to do this is a mystery to me but we end up with thousands of shriveled seeds and no seedlings under that tree every year.

Squirrels don’t do any real harm to sugar maples, unless it is to nick the bark with their teeth so they can lick up the sweet sap when it bleeds from the wound. They will also eat the buds and flowers but not in enough numbers to keep the trees from producing seeds. And produce they do; millions of seeds can fall in a single acre. The bud shown above had just opened. Sugar maples can live for 400 years and this is how they all get their start.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find; in fact my grandmother and I never found any, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much.

I like the little star inside a myrtle blossom. This plant is also called vinca (Vinca minor) and is one of those invasive plants from Europe that have been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship. Vinca was a plant that was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as Oriental bittersweet or winged euonymus, so we enjoy it’s beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

I saw a back-lit daffodil that was almost perfect but something had been munching on its petals. I didn’t know anything ate them.

It has taken about a month for them to finally give their all but female alder flowers (Alnus incana) are finally fully in bloom. They’re the tiny reddish threads coming out of the cone like structure; easily among the tiniest flowers that I try to photograph; so small that I can’t actually see them when I’m photographing them. All I can see is a reddish haze, and that’s when I have to completely trust the camera.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of and so far I’ve seen just a single blossom there. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony because there are tens of thousands of plants in it.

I like the bronze coloring on the back of the petals. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food. Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Many spring ephemeral flowers are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Right now I’m seeing them almost everywhere I go.

Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers. This one was already dropping its white pollen onto the lower petal.

I’ll leave you with a little bit of promise. Lilacs seem to be heavily budded this year and I’m very anxious to smell them again. They remind me of my mother, which might be hard to understand for those who know that she died when I was an infant but she planted white lilacs before she died and I got to smell them and take care of them for many years. I hope everyone knows a plant or two that comes with such fond memories.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

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