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Posts Tagged ‘Violet’

You can see a lot of interesting things along rivers, so last weekend I decided to walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. Archeological digs and radiocarbon dating of artifacts have shown that Native Americans lived alongside parts of this river at least as long as 12,000 years ago. The word Ashuelot is pronounced either ash-wee-lot or ash-wil-lot, and is supposed to mean “place between” in Native American language. Between what, I don’t know; possibly between the hills that surround the Connecticut River valley that it flows through.

There have been trails along this section of river for at least as long as I’ve been around and I used to walk them as a boy, so I know the area fairly well. Still, even though I was born just a few scant yards from the river, almost every time I walk its banks I see things that I didn’t know were there. A river is full of surprises.

There are many side trails that beckon, but there is only so much time in a day.

Most of our red maples have finished flowering and are now in the business of leaf and seed production.

Silver maple seeds (samaras) are losing that crimson red that I like so much but the animals that eat them like squirrels aren’t going to care what color they are. I read once that squirrels can get all the moisture they need from trees and never have to come down for a drink. Eating seems to be another story though.

This section of forest has had all of the brushy undergrowth cleared away for some reason, and it looked as if it had been carpeted with green carpet.

Violets are just one of the plants that make up that green carpet seen in the previous photo.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) also carpet the forest floor, and I saw them by the many thousands. In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort the leaves are sessile against the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk. These leaves are also elliptic, which means they are wider in the middle and taper at each end.  New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. The plants I find always have just a single nodding, bell shaped, pale yellow flower but they can sometimes have two. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

Even as the female box elder flowers still bloom seed production is in full swing. The bright lime green parts are the female flower stigmas and the dark parts are the newly emerging seeds.

Two turtles vied for prime space on the end of a mostly submerged log. The trilling of frogs was very loud here but though I spent I few minutes looking, I didn’t see a single one. When I was a boy there were huge bullfrogs in this river; some as big as cantaloupes.

There are beavers in the river, and they get hungry. This tree was big and I wondered if maybe they had given up. Still, I’ve seen them drop trees even larger than this one many times.

Duckweed was just getting started on the river’s surface.

Native shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) blossomed here and there along the shoreline. They usually stand very straight, reaching up to 25 feet tall. Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Native American used the fruit in pemmican, which is made with fat, fruit, and preserved meat. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. They also used its roots and bark medicinally. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests and along river banks.

This was a real head scratcher. There are 3 trees in this tangle, all broken. I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near them when it happened. I heard one fall very close to me two years ago on Mount Caesar in Swanzey and it must have been big because it made a tremendous crashing sound.

At the start of this post I said that I almost always see something here that I didn’t know was here and this large colony of trout lilies is one of them. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve walked past this spot hundreds of times but I’ve never seen these plants. Why is simple; I’ve just never walked here when they were blooming and I’ve always missed seeing their foliage. The leaves blend into their surroundings quite well when there are no flowers. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food, so they would have been very happy to see them.

Many of these trout lilies had beautiful red anthers. According to a blog called The Trout Lily Project “Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) exhibits striking variation in the color of its anthers & pollen grains.  Anthers that lack red pigment are pure yellow in color, whereas those that produce red pigment range in color from pale orange to deep brick red. Although this variation is well known, its ecological significance remains virtually unstudied.”

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, I believe. It can be difficult to tell them apart. Cherry trees usually bloom right on the heels of shadbush but sometimes the bloom times overlap, as they are this year.

Mayapple foliage was easy to see, but there were no flowers yet. The flowers nod beneath the leaves and can be hard to spot but the buds are usually easily seen. I’m going to have to get back here this week for photos of the flowers.

The highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) had plenty of buds. It looks like it’ll be a good year for blueberries as long as we don’t have a late frost. It is said that blueberries are one of only three fruits native to North America, but the crabapple is a fruit and it is native to North America as well. The others are cranberries and concord grapes. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

On my walk back down the trail I noticed that one of the two turtles that I had seen at the start of this walk had won top spot on the almost submerged log. It crossed its hind legs contentedly as it looked over its (probably) hard won territory.

There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats. ~ Jeff Rennicke

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday I decided to see if the hobblebushes were in bloom, so I followed one of my favorite rail trails out into the forest to see them. It’s a six mile round trip along the Ashuelot River and there’s usually plenty to see, so I’ve been looking forward to it.

2. Coltsfoot

Before I had walked half a mile I saw coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) growing in a ditch by the side of the trail and I was surprised that they were still blooming now, on this last day of April. In the past coltsfoot was thought to be good for the lungs and the dried leaves were often smoked as a remedy for asthma and coughs. It was also often used as a tobacco substitute, asthma or not. A native of Europe, it was most likely brought over by early settlers.

3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot leaves appear just as the flowers finish their brief display and there were plenty of leaves to be seen, so this is probably the last photo of a coltsfoot blossom to appear on this blog until next spring. It’s hard to say that; it seems like spring has barely gotten started.

4. Dandelion

We won’t have to go without yellow flowers though, even when the coltsfoot flowers fade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as we have this year. We should really grow (and eat) even more dandelions; I was just reading a paper by the University of Maryland Medical Center that said dandelions are “chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.” When I was a boy I ate the young spring leaves cooked just as spinach would have been. Like lettuce the leaves turn bitter with age, so you want to pick them young.  I’ve also roasted and ground the roots to use as a coffee substitute, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Trestle

Before long the rail trail crosses the Ashuelot River in Winchester. The old steel trestles still seem as strong as when they were built and are used by hikers, snowmobilers and bike riders. Other than snowmobiles in winter no motorized vehicles are allowed on rail trails, so it’s always a very peaceful hike.

6. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot was calm here on this day, but it isn’t always so. Lack of runoff from snow melt has kept it at summer levels and it will be interesting to see how it looks in August, which is usually when it reaches its lowest levels in this area. In some places you can walk across it and barely get your ankles wet in high summer, but it would be wise know the place well before you try it.

7. Maple Leaves

Spring was busting out all over along the trail.

8. Depot

Ashuelot is a town named after the river, (I think) and this is their old railroad depot. There was once an upper Ashuelot (Keene) and lower Ashuelot (Swanzey) and Ashuelot streets and roads are still found today. The word Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot by out of towners or ash-wil-ot by locals. The pronunciation is most likely a corruption of the original Native American word, which meant “place between” in the Native Pennacook or Natick languages. Between what remains a mystery. Hills maybe; we have plenty of those and the river does run between them before finally joining the Connecticut River.

9. Ashuelot Covered Bridge

The town of Ashuelot also has a beautiful covered bridge built in 1864, which is a strange time because the Civil War was still raging. I’ve read that it was originally built so wood could be carried across the river to wood burning locomotives, but I have no way to verify that. Anyhow, in spite of the fighting it was built in two spans and is 160 feet long. It’s a Town lattice truss style bridge, patented by architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The open lattice work sides were a big step away from the solid walled bridges that came before it. Now, instead of being dark like a cave covered bridges were filled with light and had better air circulation. They also often had covered walkways for pedestrian traffic, as can be seen on this bridge. I’ve crossed both styles and the difference is amazing. The change must have been a very welcome one to people of the 1800s.  At one time there were about 400 covered bridges in New Hampshire, and 70 of them were left at the end of the 20th century. The Ashuelot Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

10. Violets

Violets blossomed in great profusion along the trail and made me wonder about all the beautiful things the railroad workers must have seen along these rail beds when the trains ran through here.

11. Violets

I didn’t bother trying to identify which violets they were. I just enjoyed them.

12. Garlic Mustard

I didn’t have to try to identify the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that grew in several places; I know it well.  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. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It’s really too bad that more restaurants don’t use this potherb, because people foraging for it might be a good way to control it.

13. Canada Mayflower

Since it is native to North America it’s hard to describe the Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) as invasive, but it does form monocultures much like garlic mustard and I’ve seen large swaths of forest floor with nothing but Canada mayflowers, as the above photo shows.  Woe befalls the gardener who finds it in their garden, because its fibrous root system is almost impossible to eradicate once it has become established. If you try to pull the plant the leaf stem just beaks away from the root system and it lives on. The speckled red berries are eaten by ruffed grouse, white footed mice, and chipmunks, all of which help spread it throughout the forest.

14. Trail

I stopped here and took this photo because this is where a hawk circled over me, just above the treetops as I walked along. It didn’t make a sound but its shadow crossing in front of me gave it away and I didn’t even have to look up to know that it was escorting me down the trail. But of course I did look up and knew it was a hawk by the beautiful stripes on the underside of its tail feathers.  Unfortunately many hawks seem to have like stripes, so I don’t know its name. I’ve had vultures circle me but never a hawk; for it to do so for a few minutes seemed like odd behavior and I wondered if I had stumbled into its nesting site.

While trying to find the identity of the hawk I read that some Native American tribes believed that a hawk showed itself to a person when the person needed to pay attention to the subtle messages found in the natural world around them. The hawk was also a messenger and was said to bring gifts that included clear sightedness, courage, wisdom, and illumination, the ability to see the bigger picture, creativity, truth, magic, and focus.

15. Ashuelot

The Ashuelot gets very rocky in this area, mostly because of the low water level, and picking your way through in a canoe or kayak seems like it would be very tiring. If the rafts I built as a boy had done their job I would have had to face getting through it.

16. Pine Tree in River

There are other obstacles to river travel as well. That’s a full grown white pine (Pinus strobus) that was stuck on the rocks. White pines are the largest trees in eastern North America, and often grow to 150 feet tall. In Colonial times they were said to grow to over 200 feet but later verifiable accounts measured them ae about 180 feet. It’s a tall tree in any event and seeing one lying in the river like that reminds you just how big this river can be.

17. Bliss

There are places of bliss and torment in this world and we can usually tell which is which by the way we feel attracted to or repelled by them. This spot always calls to me when I hike here but when I took this photo I was about 30-40 feet above the river, and there is no good way down to it. It reminds me of an island in the river that I used to visit when I was a boy, and if I was 12 years old again I’d be spending a lot of my time down there in that little piece of Eden because if I couldn’t have found a path I’d have made one. Sometimes you have to put up with a little torment before you reach your place of bliss.

18. Hobblebushes

If you’ve ever lost yourself inside a painting, a poem, or a piece of music then you know why I’ll happily walk 6 miles to see a hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in bloom. To see an entire riverbank full of them is beauty rare enough to see me walk twice as far. There really isn’t anything else quite like it in these spring woods, so you have to just stop and look.

19. Hobblebush

I had to get a fallen tree off this example before I could take a photo because it had squashed most of the blossoming branches down to ground level, and as a thank you for freeing it the bush didn’t trip me up. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker. The name is a good one; I’ve found myself sprawled on the forest floor beside it a few times. I was a little early in visiting them this time so some of the small fertile central flowers hadn’t fully opened, but the large outer sterile ones more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the rail trail through here no one would ever see these beautiful shrubs or the wild azaleas and mountain laurels that will follow, and that would really be too bad.

Note: A viburnum with similar flowers called cranberry bush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) can be found at nurseries.

20. Bent Railroad Tie

Someone made a bench out of an old railroad tie. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that but this one is bent, and that’s very strange. It must be natural, maybe because of the weather; I don’t think mankind could find a way to bend one of these in that way unless steam was used. Surely it wasn’t done out here in the middle of the woods with only hand tools.

21. Box Culvert

Man can do some remarkable things out in the woods with only hand tools though, and I wonder how many of these box culverts were built along these Boston and Maine Railroad tracks back in the mid-1800s. There must be thousands of them. This one caught my interest because every other one I’ve seen was put up dry with no mortar, but this one had all its joints mortared. I’m guessing it was a repair that came later. You can see how the bottom left corner of the opening is kicked in towards the center a bit and instead of repairing it correctly someone must have tried to cement it back together. How the damage could have happened in the first place I don’t know, but since I usually have a pocket full of mysteries when I leave places like this, adding one more was no real burden.

22. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots asked that I remember all I had seen here today. I’m fairly certain that it’ll stay with me for quite a while.

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. ~Ashley Smith

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1. Fly Honeysuckle

The unusual joined flowers of the American fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) usually starts blooming during the last week of April, so it’s 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.

2. Fly  Honeysuckle

The trumpet shaped blossoms of the fly honeysuckle usually dangle downward like bells but this plant had a single open flower that was parallel to the ground and so I was able to get my first photo looking into one.

3. Red Maple

Many maples missed the recent cold snap and are still flowering now. It’s impossible to know how many were hurt by the cold but at least the weather has improved since.

4. Hazel

I was surprised to see the hazelnuts (Corylus americana) still blooming. The fine strands of the female flowers looked a little darker than their normal bright crimson though, so I wondered if they had been frost bitten.

5. Dandelions

At the edge of the forest dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) bloomed profusely. After a two year near absence it’s good to see them again. Their disappearance coincided with two of the snowiest and coldest winters we’ve had in quite some time, but that could simply be a coincidence.

6. Mayflowers

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) have just started blooming. This shot is for those of you who have never seen it so you can see its oval, leathery, evergreen leaves in relation to its waxy flowers, which are small and are white or pink. The plant can form large ground hugging mats. Another common name for it is mayflower and that comes by way of its supposedly being the first flower the Pilgrims saw upon landing on the shores of the new world.

“God be praised!” the Pilgrim said,
Who saw the blossoms peer
Above the brown leaves, dry and dead
“Behold our Mayflower here!”

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that but I have to wonder if he ever saw the plant. I’ve never seen one with “brown leaves, dry and dead” because they usually stay green year round. And since the Pilgrims landed in September it’s doubtful that trailing arbutus would have been blooming. 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.

7. Mayflowers

I’ll have to agree that the spicy fragrance of trailing arbutus is divine, but you have to be willing to get your chin on the ground to experience it, so low do they grow.  The fragrant blossoms were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England, and in many states it is protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society.

8. Vinca

Vinca (Vinca minor) is another trailing plant and is also a slightly invasive one from Europe. It 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. 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 many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

9. Bloodroots

I was happy to see bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) just coming into bloom about the same time as last year.  I think it’s probably tender enough to have suffered in the cold, so I’m glad it waited. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the toxic blood red juice found in its roots. Native Americans once used this juice for war paint. I’d love to show it to you but I can never bear to dig one up.

10. Bloodroot

I always challenge my own camera skills by seeing if I can take a photo of bloodroot with the very faint veins in the petals visible. It isn’t easy unless the light is just right. On this day sunlight fell brightly on them but by shading them with my body I was able to get the petal’s veins in the shot.

11. Violet

They’re called broadleaf weeds and some people are less than happy when they find them in their lawn, but I welcome violets in mine and I’m always happy to see them.  In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together and I’d love to have a “lawn” that looked like it did. Violets can be difficult to identify and, like the many small yellow flowers I see, I’ve given up trying. I just enjoy their beauty and notice that they have the same features as many other flowers. The deep purple lines on the petals guide insects into the flower’s throat while brushy bits above dust its back with pollen.

12. Violet

Some of my lawn violets are white, and shyer than the purple.  Native Americans had many medicinal and other 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.

13. Spring Beauty

Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) are so beautiful and seem like such perfect flowers that I just can’t think of anything else to wish for when I’m sitting with them. It’s very easy to sit with them for a very long time too, if you should happen to lose yourself in them. I’ve read that those that grow in the shade are the most colorful but I’ve also noticed that the new, partially opened flowers are also more colorful than those that are fully opened, so age must also play a part.

14. Spring Beauty

This spring beauty blossom was much less colorful than the one we saw previously, but it didn’t seem to be growing in a spot that was sunnier. I think there is also a lot of natural color variation among them just as there is with most flowers. They’re very small; a single blossom could easily hide behind a penny. This one had a visitor. A leaf hopper, I think.

15. Trout Lilies

The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have just opened in the huge colony of them that grow in a narrow strip of woodland in Keene. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Each 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 plants you know it has been there for a while. Young plants start with a single leaf and then grow a second when they are ready to bloom, so you see many more leaves than flowers. Out of the many thousands of plants in this colony I saw not even a quarter of them in bloom, so I think most of them in this section are relatively young.

16. Trout Lilies

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 like these 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 it 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 appendages and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. On this day I saw bumblebees visiting them.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michals

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