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Posts Tagged ‘Viola’

Some of our spring ephemeral flowers are finishing up and others, like goldthread, are just starting. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. I like its tiny styles curved like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens. 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 golden petals are cup shaped and hold nectar, but it must be a very small insect that sips from that cup. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will 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 flowers will appear. Their leaves come in threes, and another common name is three leaved goldthread.

The rain and cool weather is keeping dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) blooming in numbers I haven’t seen in a while. I wonder how many realize that each “petal” in a dandelion “flower” is actually a tiny flower (floret) by itself, and what we call the flower of a dandelion is really a flower head, made up of hundreds of individual florets. Before the 1800s (before lawns came along) people would pull grass out of their yards to make room for dandelions and other plants that we call weeds today.

The strange flower heads of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) aren’t as showy as other native maples but they must do their job, because we have a lot of sugar maple trees. These are the male (staminate) flowers in this photo. Sugar maples can reach 100 feet in height and can live to be 400 years old when healthy.

Magnolias seem to be having a great year and I’m seeing them everywhere. Their fragrance is amazing.

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.

The wild plum (Prunus americana) grows in just a small corner of south western New Hampshire, so you could say they are rare here. I’m fortunate to have found three or four trees growing under some power lines, but a few years ago when the powerlines were cleared I didn’t think I’d be seeing them for long. The power company clears the land regularly and cuts every plant, shrub and tree down to ground level. Except these plum trees; they were left alone and unharmed, even though everything around them was cut. I wonder how the power company knows that they are rare enough to leave standing.

How I wish you could smell these plum blossoms. The fragrance is wonderful, and so unique that I can’t think of any other flower fragrance to compare it to. It’s very different than the fragrance of apple blossoms.

I’ve been smelling plenty of apple blossoms too, because old, “wild’ apple trees line our roads and even grow in the forests. In fact entire abandoned orchards, left behind when farms were abandoned in the industrial revolution of the 1800s, can sometimes be found off in the middle of nowhere, still blooming beautifully and still bearing fruit. Apple trees can regularly live for 100 years but 200+ year old trees have been known. There is at least one tree that was planted in 1809 that still lives. These days most of the apples from the old trees are enjoyed by deer and bears in this area.

I wonder if people realize that every apple tree in this country (except crabapples) has been imported from somewhere else or was planted by seed; either by man, bird or animal. That’s why John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) did what he did. There are four species of crabapple native to North America; they are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. I planted the example in the photo but I’ve long since forgotten its name. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Our native cherries are also blossoming but I liked the red stars in the blossoms of this cultivated variety.

These pretty viola flowers were quite large and I don’t know if they were escaped pansies or large violets but I loved their color and cheeriness so I stopped to get a photo.  Violets are native To North America but plant breeders have made significant changes to color, size and fragrance.

Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. I found this one blooming in a local park. I don’t think most people pay any attention to its small blossoms.

It’s already just about time to say goodbye to the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum.) Their stay is brief but spring wouldn’t be the same without them.

Trout lily flowers have three petals and three sepals. All are yellow on the inside but the sepals on many flowers are a brown / maroon / bronze color on the outside. No matter how you look at it it’s a beautiful little thing, but I think it’s even more so from the back side.

Unfortunately it’s also almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them for another post but you never know; this cool, rainy weather is extending the bloom time of many plants. I’m still seeing forsythia that looks like it just opened yesterday and they’ve been blooming for weeks.

Winter cress, also called yellow rocket, (Barbarea vulgaris) has just started blooming. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.) Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and it stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.

What a show the grape hyacinths are putting on this year.  Since blue is my favorite color, I’m enjoying them.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) has three leaflets which together make up part of a whorl of three compound leaves. Dwarf ginseng doesn’t like disturbed ground and is usually found in old, undisturbed hardwood forests. I usually find it growing at the base of trees, above the level of the surrounding soil. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It had two flower heads, and this is the first plant I’ve ever seen with more than one. It is on the rare side here and I only know of two places to find it. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine so it should never be picked.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers. ~Lady Bird Johnson

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1. Magnolia

The cold snap of two weeks ago has given way to relatively warm sunny weather and the magnolias have bloomed. The one in the above photo lives in a local park and is one of my favorites.

2. Magnolia

You can see just a little browning on the tips of this magnolia blossom’s petals due to the cold. It got well below freezing for two nights so we’re lucky to have any blossoms at all.

3. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) gets its name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean but much like salmon return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Shad was a very important food source for Native Americans and for centuries they knew that the shad were running when the shadbush bloomed. In late June they harvested the very nutritious shad fruit, which was a favorite ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, dried fruit, and animal fat.

4. Shadbush Flowers

Shadbush is our earliest native white flowered tall shrub, blooming along the edges of woods just before or sometimes with the cherries. Another name for it is serviceberry, which is said to refer to church services. One story says that its blooming coincided with the return of circuit preachers to settlements after winter’s end and the resumption of church services. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens.

5. Ginger Leaf

Exactly a week before this photo was taken wild ginger (Asarum canadense) was showing nothing but stems (Rhizomes) running along the soil surface under a collection of last year’s leaves. Scientists thought for years that wild ginger flowers were pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but several studies have shown that they are self-pollinated.

6. Ginger Blossom

A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm. In this photo you can see that the flower was just starting to shed pollen.

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.

7. Hobblebush Flower Head

The hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native viburnums .It hasn’t quite blossomed fully yet but I decided to show this photo because it shows the inner cluster of fertile flower buds which are still green, and the just opened outer sterile blossoms which are a yellowish green. Soon both fertile and infertile flowers will be pure white and will grow into flower heads as big as your hand. They grow at the edges of woods and large groups all blooming at once can be staggeringly beautiful. Native Americans ate its berries and used it medicinally.

8. Wild Strawberry

I have a small sunny embankment in my year that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each year at this time. The soil there is very sandy and dry so I’m always surprised to see such large amounts of blossoms. The fruits are very tasty but also very small so it takes quite a bit of picking for even a handful. My daughter and son used to love them when they were small.

9. Viola

I saw these pretty viola flowers while on a walk one day. I don’t know if they were pansies or large violets but since I loved their color and cheeriness I stopped to get a photo.

10. Grape Hyacinths

And I love this color too; nothing does blue better than grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum.)  In the wild grape hyacinth is naturally found in woods or meadows. They prefer well drained sandy soil that is acid to neutral and light on compost and/or manure.

11. Female Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

12. Male Box Elder Flowers

The male flowers of box elder are small and hang from filaments. Each 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. Once they 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.

13. Norway Maple Flowers

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) 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. A few years ago I knew of only one tree but once I got to know it I started seeing them everywhere. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance.

14. Trout Lily

The last time I showed trout lilies I forgot to show the backs of the petals and sepals, which are my favorite parts. These flowers remind me of small versions of Canada lilies because except for their leaves, that’s just what they look like. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked their small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears also love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

15. Trout Lily Bud

I’m lucky to know of two places where trout lilies grow. In one spot they bloom later than the other by sometimes two weeks, so I can extend my enjoyment of them.

16. Spring Beauties

I couldn’t let early spring go by without paying another visit to the spring beauties I know of (Claytonia virginica). They’re in full bloom now and carpet the forest floor. Their scientific name is from the Colonial Virginia botanist John Clayton (1694–1773). They were used medicinally by the Iroquois tribe of Native Americans and other tribes used them as food.

17. Spring Beauties

Spring beauties are indeed very beautiful but with us for just a short time. If anything can stop me in my tracks it is this flower.

18. Trillium 3

One of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers has just started blooming. Purple trilliums (Trillium erectum) are also called red trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent. “Benjamin,” according to the Adirondack Almanac, is actually a corruption of the word benjoin, which was an ingredient in perfume that came from a plant in Sumatra. They’re very beautiful and will be at their peak of bloom soon.  As they age each petal will turn a deeper purple.

There’s not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. ~John Calvin

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1. Johnny Jump Ups

Cheery little Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta) have done just that; it seems like one day they weren’t there and the next day they were. The unusual spring heat is causing some plants to bloom two weeks or more ahead of when they normally do and it has been hard to keep up with them.

2. Painted Trillium

I was surprised to see a painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) already past its prime. You can see how the bright white has gone out of the petals and how they have become translucent. These are sure signs of age even though it should be just starting to bloom. Each white petal has a pink V at its base and that’s how it comes by its common name. Painted trilliums grow north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I hope I find a better example before they go by.

3. Lady's Slipper

The only time pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) have appeared in May on this blog was in 2013 because they usually bloom in June. It’s a beautiful thing and I was happy to see it but all the flowers that are blooming early will also be passing early, and I wonder what there will be to see in June. Nature will take care of things and I won’t be disappointed, of that I have no doubt. Native Americans used lady’s slipper root as a sedative for insomnia and nervous tension. I never pictured natives as being particularly nervous or tense, but I suppose they had their fair share of things to worry about.

4. Native Azalea

If you were hiking with me and saw an eight foot high native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in full bloom and didn’t stop and gasp in astonishment I think I’d have to check your pulse just to make sure that you were still with us, because this is something that you don’t see just any old day. It had a rough time over the winter and isn’t blossoming as much as it did last year but it’s still a sight to behold.

5. Native Azalea

There are few things more beautiful than these flowers on this side of heaven. They are also very fragrant with a sweet, clove like aroma. This old azalea grows behind an even older hemlock tree in a very swampy area, surrounded by goldthread plants and cinnamon ferns.

 6. Gold Thread

Here is one of the little goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum) that grow near the azalea. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. This plant usually grows in undisturbed soil that is on the moist side. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its being nearly collected into oblivion. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, and it was most likely sold under its other common name of canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

7. Gold Thread Leaves

New goldthread leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will 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 flowers will appear.

8. Fleabane

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

9. Skunk Currant aka Ribes glandulosum

This is the first appearance of skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum) on this blog. I know a place where hundreds of these plants grow but I’ve never seen one blooming so I was never sure what they were. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

Another name for Jack in the pulpit is Indian turnip (Arisaema triphyllum) because Native Americans knew how to cook the poisonous root to remove the toxic calcium oxalate crystals. They called the plant  “tcika-tape” which translates as “bad sick,” but they knew how to use it and not get sick. They also used the root medicinally for a variety of ailments, including as a treatment for sore eyes. This plant is also called bog onion because the root looks like a small onion and it grows in low, damp places. It is in the arum family and is similar to the “lords and ladies” plant found in the U.K.

11. Jack in the Pulpit

I always lift the hood to see the beautiful stripes and to see if Jack is being pollinated. Jack is the black, club shaped spadix surrounded by the showy spathe, which is the pulpit. The plant has a fungal odor that attracts gnats and other insects and if they do their job Jack will become a bunch of bright red berries that white tail deer love to come by and snack on.

12. Lilac

I love lilacs so they always have a place included here. Many people here in New Hampshire think that lilacs are native to the state but they aren’t. They (Syringa vulgaris) were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

13. Lilac

Until I saw this photo I never realized how suede-like lilac flowers look. I was too busy sucking the sweet nectar out of them as a boy to notice, I guess.

14. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley always reminds me of my grandmother because I can remember bringing her fistfuls of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw. She would always be delighted with my rapidly wilting bouquet and would immediately put it in a jelly jar of water. These plants are extremely toxic but I never once thought of eating or putting any part of one in my mouth, so I hope all of the mothers and grandmothers out there will give the little ones a chance to see your face light up as they thrust out a chubby fist full of wilted lily of the valley blossoms. I can tell you that, though it might seem such a small thing, it stays with you throughout life. It also teaches a child a good lesson about the great joy to be found in giving.

15. Trillium

It’s time to say goodbye to purple trilliums (Trillium erectum,) which are another of our spring ephemerals that seem almost like falling stars, so brief is their time with us. You can tell that this trillium is on its way out by the way its petals darken from red to dark purple, unlike the painted trillium we saw earlier with petals that lighten as they age.

16. Gaywings

Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) flowers often grow in pairs like those shown in the photo. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance; there are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

17. Gaywings

I tried to get a “bee’s eye view” of one of the flowers, which also go by the name of gaywings. What beautiful things they are; I could sit and admire them all day.

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder. ~Ansel Adams

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day!

 

 

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There are flowers blooming everywhere here right now. I’m not sure how I’ll ever show them all to you, but I’ll do my best. Pussytoes (Antennaria) are popping up everywhere. One day I saw a large circular colony of them and noticed that half of them were a darker shade of gray than the other half. I went home and did some reading and found that there are close to 45 species of pussytoes! Ugh-a plant hunter’s worst nightmare comes true!  Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species. Another common name for the plant is everlasting.  This is Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata); an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. Garlic Mustard flower. Garlic Mustard spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. This plant is also in the mustard family and is called winter cress or yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris.) It is very easy to confuse with our native common field mustard (Brassica rapa or Brassica campestris.)  This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and is found throughout the U.S. In some states it is considered a noxious weed. In the south it is called creasy greens. It is also known as scurvy grass due to its ability to prevent scurvy because of its high vitamin C content. A winter cress colony. Winter cress is about knee-high when it blooms in spring and stays green under the snow all winter. This habit is what gives it its common name.Foam flowers (Tiarella) are carpeting parts of the forest floor now and just coming into bloom. They are easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. The leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers.  Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one had branches overhanging a sidewalk so I was able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus ) takes quite a long time to bloom after it makes its first appearance in early spring. I think I saw my first plant in early March and this is the first blossom I’ve seen since. This plant originally comes from Europe and Asia and is considered invasive. The yellow / orange colored sap that I think we all remember from childhood has been used medicinally for thousands of years, even though it is considered toxic and can irritate the skin and eyes. It is said that it can also cause liver damage if used incorrectly. This phlox was growing in a local park. I don’t know if it is our native Wild Blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) or not. Since there was an identical plant with pink flowers there I’m wondering if it isn’t Meadow phlox (Phlox maculata.) The two species look very much alike and unfortunately, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to make a positive identification. Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) are common in moist areas. These were growing in a sunny spot beside a stream.  They are native and are thought to be a good wetland indicator. They are also very beneficial to many insects and often used in butterfly gardens.  Golden Alexanders are in the carrot family (Apiaceae) along with many extremely toxic plants like water hemlock, which is deadly. Great care should be taken when using any wild plant from this family, especially if it has white flowers. Solomon’s seal (polygonatum biflorum) is also very early this year. I’m surprised that our recent cold nights didn’t harm it. This plant has been used medicinally for centuries. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant. Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is also called bog onion or Indian turnip. What is seen here is not the flower; the striped outer “pulpit” is a spathe, which is essentially a sheath that protects the flowers.  “Jack,” who lives under the pulpit just like an old time New England preacher, is a spadix, which is a fleshy stem that bears the flowers. Few actually see the small flowers of a Jack in the Pulpit because they form down inside the spathe. I usually open the pulpit for a moment just to see what Jack is up to. This early in the year Jack has just come up and is waiting for fungus flies who think they smell mushrooms to come and fertilize his flowers. If they do the spathe will die back and a cluster of green berry-like fruit will form where the flowers were. These will turn bright red after a time and a deer might come along and eat them, helping to spread the seeds.  Since this one is growing right next to a game trail by a stream, there is a good chance of that happening. The root, which is a corm, may be eaten if it is cooked thoroughly but is extremely toxic when uncooked. Johnny jump ups (Viola cornuta ) are doing just that in my lawn, which already needs mowing, so I’d better get it done. I’ll mow around the violets, bluets, pussy toes, wood sorrel, strawberries, and anything else that looks more interesting than grass.

Most of the flowers shown here are wildflowers but we shouldn’t forget that there are many beautiful cultivated flowers that also bloom in the spring. Next time I’ll show you some of those.  I hope you enjoy seeing what’s blooming here in New Hampshire. Thanks for stopping in.

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What got me thinking about fragrance? The first night that it was warm enough to leave the windows open I did, and every skunk in the neighborhood must have come and had a party on my lawn. The smell was enough to make me close the windows and reminded me of the day I accidentally stepped on a skunk cabbage shoot. Phew! But at least with its strange looking flower spathe, skunk cabbage warns you that something might be afoot. There are flowers that are very beautiful and smell almost as bad. Others have no fragrance at all, and some turn off your nose so you couldn’t smell them if you wanted to. This plant looks harmless enough, but skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has to get the award for the stinkiest plant of all-at least in these parts. Though both have an odor it is the leaves more than the flowers that reek the plant’s legendary odor when they are crushed or bruised. When trampled at first they smell like skunk but later the odor becomes much stronger and smells of rotting meat. Though it attracts many flies skunk cabbage is also the first plant to provide pollen to bumblebees in early spring.  Black bears eat the plant in early spring to help get their digestive systems functioning again after their long winter sleep. Many have a picture in their mind of trilliums growing alongside a stream in a deeply shaded glen. Though some trilliums do prefer such situations, the red (or purple) trillium (Trillium erectum) grows right out in full sun, throwing out its chest and saying “Just look at me will ya!” And a look is all you should give this one whose common name is Stinking Benjamin. Some say it smells like rotting meat and others say an old wet dog. I never stick my nose in it, so I don’t worry about what it smells like. I smelled one once as a boy and knew right then that I had better things to do than put my nose in THOSE stinky things. As usual though nature has a plan, and our inability to understand it doesn’t make it any less of a plan. This trillium has pollen but no nectar so it wants to attract flies rather than bees, and with its rancid odor and color of rotting meat, it attracts plenty. This is also the wake robin we hear of in poems, heralding the advent of spring just like its red breasted namesake. Trilliums can take as long as 7 years to bloom, so they should never be picked.Violets (Viola sororia) have suddenly appeared in the lawn. I think of violets as I knew them in childhood; gathered and tied together with other colorful, sweet smelling things as a gift for my grandmother. Violets have a remarkable fragrance but many will only be teased by it. For about one third of the population violets can be smelled just once before a compound in the plant called ionone numbs the receptors in the olfactory system, leaving the poor flower sniffer unable to smell anything for a few minutes. If this happens to you, you shouldn’t worry that your nose is broken; before too long the ability to smell returns. This is the first year I’ve seen the sweet white violet (Viola blanda)in my yard. I hope it likes it here enough to stay. I’m going to just leave it alone and pretend I didn’t see it. Another beautiful stinker. Cherries, plums, and pears flower before they show many leaves, while flowering crabapples show leaves first. Since this one was blooming in a parking lot and had no leaves I assumed it was a Bradford Pear. One sniff confirmed it-pear trees are notorious stinkers. This one smelled a little like a cross between potatoes ready for the compost pile and old sneakers to me, but a lot of people say they smell like dead fish.  Bradford pears were introduced from Korea and China and were an instant hit until people realized what a weak, short lived and stinky tree they are. They live only 25-30 years and even a small amount of ice or snow build up easily breaks the weak limbs. It is an ornamental tree used extensively along city streets and in parking lots. If you find yourself in a parking lot surrounded by trees with white flowers, chances are they are Bradford pears. Just smell one to be sure. The purple flowers of ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is in the mint family, 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. Lawns are one of its favorite places to grow and so it has been labeled a terrible weed and kicked to the curb. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it. I would add that nature also abhors bare ground and so has plants like ground ivy rush to fill it. That’s something that many don’t understand-if a lawn is doing well and is thick and lush then weeds can’t get a foothold and won’t grow because there is too much completion. It isn’t a plant’s fault that its seed fell on a piece of bare ground in what we might call a lawn. Scott over at the Little Crum Creek blog recently did an excellent post on ground ivy which you can read by clicking here. Flowering quince (Chaenomeles) is a very old fashioned shrub which, for about two weeks in spring, will fill a yard with its fruity fragrance, especially on warm evenings. Known as Japonica until the early 1900s, quince is one of the earliest flowering shrubs. It blooms about two weeks after forsythia blooms and before it shows leaves. The large, quarter sized orange / pink blossoms are loved by bees and butterflies, and hummingbirds will come from miles away to sip on their nectar. Quince grows edible fruit that can be harvested in late fall and made into an excellent jelly. I think if someone asked me what I thought heaven might smell like, I’d have them smell a Loebner magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri). These beautiful flowers bloom on a shrub that will reach 25 feet tall and have hundreds of them blooming at once. Like most magnolias, the flowers appear before the leaves in early to mid-spring. The fragrance is spicy-citrusy- sweet but not overpowering.  There is little that comes close to the joy that is found by sitting out on the porch while this fragrance floats on the breeze. For now I’ll say that it is my favorite fragrance; until the lilacs bloom, anyway. It’s hard to choose a favorite fragrance. In my opinion all ornamental flowering cherry trees (Prunus) are beautiful. Some, like the variety named “Fragrant Cloud” are also very fragrant.  Others have little or no fragrance. This double flowered weeping cherry tree was both beautiful and fragrant. I could have stood and sniffed the blooms all day.Forsythia is a plant that nurserymen agree does not have a fragrance, yet some say they love the plant for its fragrance and others say they can’t stand its odor. I’ve never been able to smell one, but I don’t correct those who think they do. If an imagined fragrance seems real to the person doing the smelling, then so be it. Forsythia is a native of Japan and was under cultivation as early as 1850in England. It is named after William Forsyth (1737-1804), the Scottish botanist who co-founded the Royal Horticultural Society in London.

Perfumes are the feelings of flowers. – Heinrich Heine


Thanks for visiting. I’m sorry I couldn’t do a scratch and sniff page so you could smell the flowers.

 

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Last weekend was another where I had no set plan and just rambled here and there to places I had seen wildflowers in the past.

One of the places I went to was a beaver swamp. I call these swamps because “pond” isn’t really accurate in this instance. Though we have plenty of beaver ponds, this land is more like a flooded forest than anything else, and the water is quite shallow.

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) loves to grow in low, swampy ground along with skunk cabbage, trout lily, marsh marigold, and many others plants. It is also quite toxic and should not be eaten.

Many ferns also like boggy ground. Here are some fiddleheads just out of the soil. Fiddleheads from the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), which are considered a spring delicacy by many, are the only ferns safe to eat. They like to grow on river banks, pond edges, and other wet places and are often completely under water in early spring.

Most Willows (Salix) prefer moist places and I regularly see them growing in water. Here pussy willows grow along with Vinca in the background. Vinca will grow just about anywhere and doesn’t mind moist soil.Once I left the swamps and found some dry ground I also found bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  Bloodroot doesn’t mind moist soil but it doesn’t like it saturated. This one has shed a lot of pollen and I think its blooming season is just about over. Even with a touch of color blindness I could tell that this trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) was pink instead of the white that I had been seeing. A couple of posts ago the blogger from Plants Amaze Me asked why they had pink trailing arbutus in Michigan and we had white here in New Hampshire. We talked about how certain minerals in the soil can have an effect on color as it does with pink and blue hydrangeas. I wasn’t sure then if that’s what caused the color variation in trailing arbutus and I’m still not sure, but these pink ones were growing in the center of a large colony of white ones so I doubt that the soil is the cause. One more thing: If you aren’t reading the blog by Plants Amaze Me you’re missing out on a treat-they post some of the most beautiful and varied wild flower and landscape pictures that I’ve seen.

One day I came across a small group of dried Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) plants from last year on the side of a trail. I have since looked at several other pictures of Indian pipes in this stage and they all show the cups (or “bowls” of the pipe) upright, but every time I see them growing the cups point downward. I wonder what makes the cups point skyward as the plants dry out.

I had to stand in the bed of my truck with one hand holding onto the branch and the other snapping pictures on a day with what seemed like hurricane force winds to get this picture of staminate (male) Norway maple (Acer platanoides) flowers. If the photo isn’t quite as sharp as it should be, that’s why. We’ve had strong winds here every day for over a week. The European Norway maple is considered an invasive species in many states. The easiest way to check for Norway Maple is to break a leaf stem (petiole). Norway maple is the only one that will show white, milky sap in broken leaf petioles.Our native wild raspberries are just starting to leaf out. It’s going to be awhile before we see fruit, but I’m anxious to taste them again.I found hundreds of these tiny violas growing in a local park. These are the smallest I’ve ever seen; each flower was smaller than a pencil eraser.  I have since learned that a viola known as the dwarf or field pansy (Viola kitaibeliana) is quite tiny and thought to be a native of North America, but I don’t know if that is the same plant that is shown here. I had to lay flat on the ground with my chin in the grass to get a picture of this tiny plant that wasn’t more than a half inch high.I love Scilla (Scilla siberica) so last year I planted quite a few of the small bulbs. This is my return on that investment-beautiful color! There are over 100 species of scilla and some are called wood hyacinth or wild hyacinth. They spread quite quickly so before too long I expect to have large drifts of them. The best part is they need no care whatsoever. They do need to be planted in a spot where their leaves can mature in the sun without being mowed off.

This is just a bit of last weekend’s journey. Thanks for stopping by.

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We had a strange, warm winter here in southwestern New Hampshire and now it appears that spring will be as strange, and even warmer. Temperatures in the 80s caused many flowers and trees to bloom as much as a month ahead of their average time. Now the cold returns and we all wait to see what harm it might do. Anything below 15 degrees will damage fruit tree buds enough so they won’t bear. 

I ran into these strange flower clusters in a local park and though I didn’t know what they were I took a few pictures. Once I had the time I began trying to identify them. At first I thought they might be Sassafras but they weren’t. After several hours of looking in shrub books and online, I now know this to be the Cornelian cherry (Cornus officinalis,) also known as Japanese Cornel Dogwood. It is an unusual member of the dogwood family that can bloom as early as February and isn’t often seen, except in city parks and arboretums.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)wasn’t unexpected, but I found them growing in a spot where trout lilies grew last year and I saw no sign of the lilies. Each flower last for only 3 days. 

It’s early for bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis.) Every time I see this flower with its strange stem clasping leaf I think of ancient times when travelers wrapped themselves in cloaks. Behind and to the right of the larger flower a green spike of lily of the valley is just emerging.

 The plant usually blooms in mid-April here and is called bloodroot because of the red sap that flows from the bruised root. One blossom was trying to open. These are among the most beautiful of early spring flowers.

Pussy willow (Salix) bloomed at the edge of a large vernal pool that will have completely disappeared before too long if this dry weather keeps on. 

Box (Buxus sempervirens) is a common shrub often used for hedges, but many don’t realize that its flower is worth waiting for. This is a good example of why shrubs shouldn’t be trimmed too early in spring. 

This tree didn’t look like an American elm (Ulmus americana,) but the flowers certainly looked like they belonged on an elm. The tree could be an elm hybrid, of which there are many. Elms have incomplete flowers lacking petals and sepals that hang at the end of long, thin stems (pedicels.) Three or four of these trees grow along a busy street in Keene, N.H. 

Red maple(Acer rubrum) flowers are easy to find in spring and are very fragrant. The photos above show the male (left) and female flowers. The male flowers have numerous colorful stamens with pollen bearing anthers on the ends and the female flowers have stigma bearing pistils, ready to receive the pollen. The trees can be confusing; some trees have only male flowers, some only female flowers, and some perfect flowers, which have both male and female parts. To make things even more confusing both male and female flowers can appear on the same tree, and flower color can range from yellow to red. The male flowers are responsible for much of the pollen floating about at this time of year. 

I was sorry to find ornamental cherry trees (Prunus) blooming. These blossoms are very susceptible to cold and with 2 or 3 below freezing nights in the forecast, I’m afraid their beauty was short lived this year. 

If you like a plant that is tough to identify, might I recommend one of the over 5000 sedge species? Without fruit a positive identification is close to impossible, but I’m fairly sure that this plant is Pennsylvania sedge, also called common oak sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) Here the pointed, scaly looking spike that is the staminate flower bud rises above the smaller and less noticeable pistillate flower buds on the same stalk. These plants are wind pollinated and native to eastern North America. The fruit holds a single, tiny seed.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) has a nice flower that it is only 1/8 of an inch across and easy to miss. Though it looks like the flower has 10 petals, there are really 5 with a deep notch dividing each one nearly in half. The 5 green sepals directly under the flower help to identify this one. Chickweed is very common in lawns. 

Hearts ease (Viola tricolor,) also known as Johnny jump ups. So why is it called tri color when only two colors are visible? Quite often the two uppermost petals will be blue or purple, but not always. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. These were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. 

A dandelion grew right next to the viola. This is the first one I’ve seen since I took a photo of one on December 21st. What a strange winter and spring!

Thanks for stopping in.

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