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Posts Tagged ‘Vervain’

We’re coming into high summer now and though we still haven’t had any really beneficial rain, flowers continue to bloom. This shy little Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) peeked out of the tall grass at the edge of the forest. They don’t always grow in the same large clumps as their cousins the maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) do, and this was the only one I saw. They also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center as maiden pinks do, and that’s a good means of identification. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation. Maiden pinks seem to prefer open lawns and meadows while Deptford pinks hide their beautiful faces at the sunny edges of the forest.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

3. Mallow

Driving home from work one evening I saw a flash of what looked like blue on the side of the road out of the corner of my eye so I turned around, hoping that I’d found another stand of chicory plants. Once I’d driven back to where I saw the plants I found that not only hadn’t I seen blue flowers, I hadn’t seen chicory either. But I wasn’t disappointed, because the mallow plants I found there were beautiful. I think they might have been musk mallow (Malva moschata.) Since it’s another plant that is originally from Europe it was probably a garden escapee, but you could hardly call it invasive. I see them once in a blue moon, even less than the elusive chicory that I’m always hoping to see.

4. Mallow

I thought the mallow flowers were pink but my color finding software sees lavender. I love looking at such beautiful flowers, especially those that I rarely see. I’m sure there were many people who drove by that day wondering why I was kneeling on the side of the road, but it wasn’t the first time for that.

I had to stop working on this post and go out for a while and when I did, just after writing that I rarely see chicory (Cichorium intybus,) there was a large stand of it beside the road. Actually the road was a very busy highway and I wasn’t sure about stopping but in the end I did and was glad that I had. Chicory is a large, inch and a half diameter flower that is a beautiful shade of blue. Unfortunately it’s rare in this area and I’m lucky if I see it at all. I always hope the plants that I do see produce plenty of seeds but its habit of growing so close to roads means it gets mowed down a lot.

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

I thought I’d show a rose blossom so those who have never seen a flowering raspberry flower could compare the two of them. The flowering raspberry really doesn’t look anything like a rose except maybe in size of bloom, but they do get confused occasionally. This rose grew at the edge of the woods so I don’t know anything about it except that it was beautiful and fragrant enough so I wished it grew in my own yard. There was a sun shining radiantly at its center.

8. Enchanter's Nightshade

When I get a new camera like I did recently one of the first things I do is look for the smallest flowers that are blooming at the time so I can try out its macro ability, and they don’t come much smaller than enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. The new camera surprised me on this day; I’ve never gotten such clear shots of this little flower.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

I’ve grown a lot of beans but I’ve really never paid that much attention to the flowers. They’re unusual and quite pretty I thought, when I saw them in a friend’s garden.

13. Vervain

Vervain (Verbena hastata) is described as having reddish blue or violet flowers but I see the same beautiful blue color that I saw in the chicory flower. Somebody else must have seen the same thing, because they named the plant blue vervain. Vervain flowers are considerably smaller than chicory, but there are usually so many blooming that they’re as easy to spot as chicory is. Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower clusters. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

14. Swamp Milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is one of those flowers that take me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer.

How could you not look forward to seeing something so beautiful? I could look at it all day.

16. Purple Fringed Orchid

I walked down a trail through a swamp that I didn’t know well one day and there growing beside it was a two foot tall purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes.) It was one I’ve never seen; it looked like a flock of beautiful purple butterflies had landed right beside me.

17. Purple Fringed Orchid

Once I came to my senses I moved closer and knelt beside the plant. Struck dumb by its beauty, all I could do was gaze and admire, so very grateful that I had found such a wondrous thing.

18. Purple Fringed Orchid

Later, after I left the swamp I thought of John Muir, who wrote of finding the beautiful calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) after being nearly lost in a swamp all day:

I found beautiful Calypso on the mossy bank of a stream… The flower was white and made the impression of the utmost simple purity like a snowflower. It seemed the most spiritual of all the flower people I had ever met. I sat down beside it and fairly cried for joy… How long I sat beside Calypso I don’t know. Hunger and weariness vanished, and only after the sun was low in the west I plashed on through the swamp, strong and exhilarated as if never more to feel any mortal care.

John Muir was completely lost in the beauty of nature; totally absorbed by the flower before him. It’s a wonderful experience and anyone it has ever happened to longs for it to happen again, and it does. I hope everyone has the chance to experience it, at least once.

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

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1. Fragrant White Water Lily

Our aquatic plants have started blooming here in the southwestern part of New Hampshire and queen among them, at least in my opinion, is the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata.) I happened to be with someone recently who crawled out on a fallen tree to smell one of these beauties. When I told him that people said they smelled like honeydew melons he agreed. Sort of-it was a hard fragrance to describe, he said, but a pleasant one.  I’m happy just seeing them; I like the golden fire that burns in their center.

2. Pickerel Weed

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

3. Pickerel Weed

A small sampling of what was a very large colony of pickerel weed. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

4. Burr Reed

One of my favorite aquatics is American burr reed (Sparganium americanum,) more for its quirky appearance than for any other reason. Its round, spiky female flowers grow at the bottom of the stem and the male flowers with yellow stamens above them. Burr reed usually grows right at the edge of ponds and rivers in waterlogged soil but it will sometimes grow in still water. Ducks and other waterfowl love the seeds.

5. Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is an invasive that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows.

Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant like the one pictured above is becoming very difficult. I read of an experiment going on in Dublin, a town east of here, in which the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture is releasing European beetles to feed on purple loosestrife. The thought is that the beetles will control the plant but my question is, suppose they do control the plant and suppose one day there isn’t any more purple loosestrife. What will the beetles feed on then, native plants? Will we be any better off?  I think we need to be very careful what we wish for.

6. Purple Loosestrife

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.”

7. Mad Dog Skullcap

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) gets its common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge.

8. Mad Dog Skullcap

There is powerful medicine in both mad dog or marsh skullcap and when Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose. The small blue and white flowers always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Those of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller.

9. Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is another plant that I look for at the water’s edge, though it doesn’t usually grow close enough to get its feet wet. It grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. The flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. This plant was one of three considered most sacred by the Druids and has been used medicinally for many thousands of years. Here in America it is an introduced invasive, but little is heard about it and nobody seems to mind.

NOTE: The scientific name I meant to use for this plants is Spirea alba.

10. Soapwort

I find soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) growing along river banks. The plant gets its common name from the way the chopped and boiled leaves produce a soapy lather that is particularly good at removing grease. This plant is a native of Europe and is thought to have been brought over by colonists to be used as a soap substitute. It is said to be especially useful for waterproofing wool, and museum conservators use it for cleaning delicate fabrics that can be harmed by modern soaps.

11. Riverbank Flowers

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is just coming into bloom and I like its dusty rose pink color with the beautiful blue of vervain. I found them on the rocky banks of the Ashuelot River.

12. Canada thistle  aka Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) isn’t covered with sharp spines like the larger bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) that most of us have tangled with. Though it does have spines along the leaf margins and stem, they are quite small. Despite its common name the plant is actually a native of Europe but has spread to virtually every country in the northern hemisphere. It has a deep and extensive creeping root system and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it gains a foothold. For that reason it is considered a noxious weed in many states.

13. Orange Daylilly

Along with lilacs and peonies, the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. It is also very tough; my brother used to mow his when they finished blooming and they still came back and bloomed year after year. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common.

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

14. Phlox

Phlox whispered that fall is on the way but I didn’t want to hear it. It seems like just yesterday that I was taking photos of spring beauties.

15. Herb Robert

Herb Robert is a geranium that has never appeared on this blog because I’ve never found it in the wild until just recently on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

A very curious fact about this plant is how many people, scientists included, have discovered that it grows most abundantly in areas that have high levels of radiation. It is thought to absorb the radiation from the soil, break it down and disperse it. If I had a Geiger counter I’d go back and check the bedrock outcrop that I found it growing on.

16. Radish

Friends let their radishes go to seed this year and among the rows of plain white flowers was a beautiful pink one. Since Henry David Thoreau instilled a spirit of nonconformity in me when I read his words as a boy, I was happy to see this plant breaking ranks and doing its own thing. Many of the plants found in nurseries are those that have done the same.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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The plants in this post were all found growing in or near water. Almost everywhere else has been too dry to support many blooming plants.  Lately though, passing thunderstorms have helped. Every few days the storm clouds gather. Sometimes they drop rain and sometimes just make a lot of noise.   Blue vervain (Verbena hastate) has appeared here before, but it has been blooming all summer and it’s hard to beat such a beautiful color. The only thing this plant is missing is a scent. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. This plant likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I’ve also seen it growing out of sidewalk cracks, but it was barely a foot tall.Blue Vervain, Yellow goldenrod and pink clover. Could any of us plan anything more beautiful for our gardens?Native boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is another plant that likes its feet wet and its head in the sun. It is usually seen with Joe Pye weed and some call it white Joe Pye weed. There is another boneset called late boneset (Eupatorium serotinum.) Bonest is sometimes used medicinally in teas and tonics even though it has toxic qualities. The greatest danger in using this plant medicinally is that it can be easily confused with our native, extremely toxic white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima,) which has similar flower clusters. All parts of white snakeroot are so poisonous that thousands died in the 19th century by using beef and milk from cattle that had eaten the plant. Its poison can even enter the body through cuts. White snakeroot is also sometimes called tall boneset.The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like-as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves look crinkly and have saw- toothed margins and the stem is very hairy. If these four identification points aren’t present then the plant isn’t boneset. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.As flowers go Canada horseweed (Conyza canadensis) isn’t much to look at. In fact, if it wasn’t for the many small, dandelion-like seed heads I would have passed it right by. The flowers are tiny and seem to stay closed more than they do open. This plant can be easily seen from a distance because it starts branching at about a foot down from the tip of the tall, 3 foot stem and always looks top heavy. This plant is a North American native but is considered a noxious weed over much of the world. Legend has it that dried horseweed stem is one of the best materials for a drill when making fire with friction. Its stems are weak, so rubbing it between your hands rather than using a bow is recommended. It is said to produce a glowing coal with very little effort.There are 12 to 15 species of Gerardia in New England and unless you look closely at the plant while you have a field guide in your hands, you can easily mix them up. This one, I’m fairly certain, is Slender Gerardia (Gerardia tenuifolia.) The wiry stems, long flower stalks, sharply pointed calyx, long, narrow leaves, branching habit and dark spots with yellow pollinator guide lines inside the flower all go a long way towards identifying it. Gerardia is related to both foxgloves and snap dragons, and some call this slender leaved foxglove, even though the flowers are much smaller than those of foxglove. This plant is said to prefer dry areas but we had a thunderstorm the night before I found it and it was growing in very wet sand.  It is native to the eastern U.S. and doesn’t grow west of Missouri.I ran into this native dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) on a morning after we had thunder storms the night before. There was quite a large colony of it growing very close to the water near a pond and the plants were so tangled together that you couldn’t tell one from another. The flowers are quite small but they covered the short, bushy plants, making them easy to see. This plant looks like a lot like a small version of common St. John’s Wort, but is more sprawling than tall. I’ve had a hard time getting close to this floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiate) but finally, after 2 months, I got close enough to get a decent photo and its flower was closed! Oh well-you’ll have to trust me when I say that the small yellow, snapdragon-like flower is unusual and beautiful. What I really wanted to point out about the plant are the unusual leaf stalks (petioles) that have evolved into floats. In the fall the plant forms what are called winter buds on its underwater stems. These buds and bits of stem are all that survive the winter on the pond bottom. In spring when the water warms they inflate and float to the surface where they start to grow into new plants. These plants float in ponds and slow moving streams and trap insects in underwater bladders.I found this forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) growing on a river bank. Books tell me that the plant grows naturally on the banks of streams and rivers, but this is the only time I’ve ever seen one there in spite of spending over 50 years exploring such places. There are over 50 species of forget-me-nots; some are native to North America and some are European natives.Heal all (Prunella vulgaris ) just goes on and on. It’s been blossoming all summer and it seems that whenever I find a plant I’d like a photograph of there is heal all, waiting patiently to have its picture taken, too. This time I decided to oblige and snapped a few shots of the shy but very beautiful little thing. Like the forget-me-not that we just saw, heal all can be both a native or European plant, depending on which species you happen to see.As the story goes, once upon a time a lady (with a dirty thumb?) made an impression on this plant  and it has been called lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) ever since. Though it doesn’t show very well in this photo, the base of each leaf forms a clasping sheath where it joins the central stem. Clasping leaves and the spots on each leaf are helpful identifiers. The small whitish-pink flowers are hard to find fully open and most often appear as they do in the photo. This is a small, unobtrusive plant that might reach 2 feet tall on a good day. Lady’s thumb is very similar to other knotweeds and smartweeds, but is the only one with the brownish black “thumb print.” I found the plant pictured growing in the rocky, sandy soil of a river bank, very close to the water line.When you get up close and personal pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) turns out to be quite hairy. This is one feature which, at even a short distance, usually isn’t seen. Pickerelweed, unless it hasn’t rained for a month, is an aquatic plant always found growing in shallow water just off shore of ponds and rivers. This year though, with the lack of rain, this one grew in mud at the edge of a pond and I was able to walk right up to it.  Pickerelweed will bloom right up to a good frost. While the tops die back in the fall, the starchy, fleshy roots will live on under water until the following spring. Deer, muskrat and geese think this plant is a delicacy. At first I thought this plant was northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) but I can’t find any reference to reddish leaves and dark purple stems for that plant. Instead, it must be the very similar looking taper leaf water horehound (Lycopus rubellus.) Its description includes both reddish leaves and stems which can be more purple than green, especially when it grows in bright light. Both plants love wet soil and are good wetland indicators. I found this one growing in full sun on a riverbank in a place that is often covered by water. I’ve seen it countless times but have really never paid it any attention.Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a wet soil loving native plant and I see it on river and stream banks regularly. One story says that water droplets sparkle on the dull green leaves after a rain, and that’s why the plant is called jewelweed. Another says it’s because the flowers sparkle in the sun. Several species of bees and ruby throated hummingbirds visit jewelweeds regularly. The forward bending nectar spur on each flower plus their orange color makes this plant easy to identify.  Another name for the plant is spotted touch me not because of the way the seed pods explode at the slightest touch. I’m sure most of us experienced that surprising event as children. This plant is extremely useful for soothing skin that has come into contact with poison ivy. Just pick a few stems and squeeze the sap onto the itch and rub it in. The itch will be gone in no time.  A similar but less common plant is yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida,) which has pale yellow flowers.This wet meadow has been seen here before. It is a fine place to find all kinds of sun loving wildflowers and some of those in this post live there. It also reminds me of an impressionist’s painting. Monet, maybe?

Be like the sun and meadow, which are not in the least concerned about the coming winter ~George Bernard Shaw

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