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Posts Tagged ‘Violets’

Every year around Halloween I go to Willard Pond over in Hancock to see what in my opinion, is some of the most colorful foliage in the region. Every year I tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see what it looks like then but I never have, until now. We’re going to be walking through a beautiful hardwood forest of oak, beech, and birch right along that shoreline over there behind that boulder.

Though the forest looked leafless in that previous shot there were plenty of spring leaves to see. This is the start of the trail that I follow. It is called the Tudor trail but I think I would have named it serenity, because that’s where it leads.

There were lots of new, velvety oak leaves.

Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) still bloomed.

Ferns were in all stages of growth.

And everywhere you looked there were the big white flowerheads of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides). It was hard to get a shot of them in the bright sunlight so I had to underexpose this shot. White is a tricky color for a camera on a sunny day. I’ve had several questions about cameras and how to use them lately and if this situation seems tricky for you, you might want to read about “bracketing exposures.”  It’s a simple tip that covers a lot of bases and helps you get more used to changing the settings on your camera.

Another native viburnum, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), showed how it got the name. In the fall these leaves can turn pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

The beavers had cut down a big beech and were in the process of stripping all its bark from it.

I stopped to look at the hillside across the pond with its soft, hushed hints of green. I saw what I had suspected; that this place is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I could hear a loon laughing and giggling over there somewhere and I wondered what the early settlers must have thought when they first head loons. With all of their many superstitious beliefs it must have scared them half to death. If you’d like to hear what I heard, just click here: www.loon.org/the-call-of-the-loon/

A fly fisherman was fishing for trout from his kayak and he heard the loon too. The loon was most likely also fishing for trout. Willard pond is considered a trout pond and there are rainbow and brook trout, as well as with smallmouth bass. No boats with motors are allowed, and fly fishing is the only form of fishing allowed. Since it is part of a wildlife sanctuary the land surrounding the pond can never be developed. It is about as close to true wilderness as you can find in this area and it is beautiful.

Several times when I came here in the fall, I saw the seed heads of rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). They’re one of our most beautiful shrubs and I hoped to find them in bloom, but all I saw were buds. I had to go back to get these photos of them but it was worth it because this is not a common shrub.

Rhodora is a small, two-foot-tall native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. They bloom just before irises in this area, and by mid-June their flowers will have all vanished. Henry David Thoreau knew it well, and wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color.” He would have loved this place.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) grew all along the trail and on some of the boulders. I saw plenty of buds but no flowers yet. In the fall dark blue or purple berries will hang where the flowers were.

I’m including this view of the trail to show that if you come here, you’d be wise to wear good sturdy hiking boots. Mud, stones and roots are some of the things you’ll have to scramble up and over. I tell you about trail conditions in these posts so you won’t get here and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. I often wish someone had done the same for me. Every hike has its own set of challenges, and their difficulty seems to increase with age.

For years, each fall I’ve seen what I thought was a species of dicentra growing on a boulder. But which boulder, I wondered on this trip. Then up ahead I saw that a tree had fallen across the path, stopped only by a boulder. When I got to the boulder sure enough, it was the boulder with the plant I was looking for on it. Luckily the tree hadn’t crushed the plants, so I was able to see them flowering. I could see that they weren’t dicentra.

Though I could see that they weren’t dicentra I didn’t know what they were because I had never seen them before. I took photos of the flowers and leaves from all sides as I always do and when I got home, I found that they were pale cordyalis. (Corydalis sempervirens.) They are a native which, from what I’ve read likes sandy, stony soil along pond and river banks. They are also called rock harlequin and why is perfectly clear, since this one grew on a boulder.

The small flowers of pale corydalis have two pairs of petals, which are bright pink with yellow tips. Some were white, but I’m not sure if they fade to white or come out white and turn pink. They are a biennial, which means that the plants appear in the first year and flower in the second. Flowers are small and appear in clusters (Racemes). They are related to Dutchman’s breeches, which is a native dicentra.

When I got home and saw this photo I took of the forest I thought my camera had lost its marbles, but then I checked the shots I took with the other two cameras I carried and they all showed the same; the most intense green I’ve ever seen. Colorblindness makes it hard to understand what color I’m seeing sometimes and sometimes the colors I see just don’t seem possible. “Find that on a color wheel” my mind taunts.

I’m always awe struck by this huge boulder. In relation to the glacier that scraped it up and brought it here it must have been little more than a grain of sand, and it’s hard to even imagine that.

Violets grew out of the moss on a stone at the water’s edge.

Blue flag irises grew close enough to the water to have wet feet, and that’s what they like. I haven’t seen any in bloom as of this post.

Over the years a few people have told me what I’ve missed by not following the trail past this old oak with its rickety little bench but I’ve seen, heard and felt enough, and I usually have more photos than I would want or need by the time I get here, so this is where I end my hike. I could go on to what is called “the point” or I could climb Bald Mountain, but I don’t feel a need to do so. This spot always calls to me to come and sit so that’s what I do, and it has always been enough.

I sit on the ground these days because the bench is getting wobbly, but it doesn’t matter. The view is the same and the sounds are the same. There is just the lapping of the waves and bird song, and maybe an occasional chuckle or hoot from a loon.

I watched the shadows from the waves move over the stone covered pond bottom. There was just enough of a breeze to kick them up a bit and thankfully, to keep the biting bugs away. In this region you would be hard pressed to find a day when there wasn’t a breeze coming across a lake or pond.

The one thing that is most abundant here is silence, and the simplest lesson nature teaches is the most valuable: silence heightens awareness. Once we have learned this silence becomes the teacher, and silence teaches peace. When I come upon the kind of beauty that makes me quiet and still, be it a tiny flower or a mountain top, I find that peace is always there, waiting. I do hope that you find the same.

The best places aren’t easy to see; instead of following light one must follow silence. ~Hanna Abi Akl

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Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are having a great year and I’m seeing lots of them. They usually grow in the forest in places that gets an hour or two of sunlight, but this year they seem to be everywhere. They sparkle like the first snowflakes of winter on the forest floor. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and four inches is just about how tall they grow.

 I always like to see how many flowers I can find on a single starflower plant and this year I’m seeing many with three flowers. I’ve seen four flowers twice but one of the flowers had passed each time. It used to be that seeing three flowers was rare and seeing four was almost unheard of, but they seem to have more flowers each year now. More flowers are always a good thing, in my opinion.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) grow alongside trout lilies in many places and though the trout lilies didn’t do well this year the anemones did. Anemones are sun lovers and they bloomed well, so it can’t be a lack of sunlight that caused of the lack of trout lily blossoms.

Much like a bloodroot blossom the petals of an anemone have almost imperceptible veins that show only in the right light. I was lucky enough to be there and able to capture it when the lighting was right.

There’s nothing left to see of them where I go, but I met a friend on a trail one day and he said the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) in his yard were blooming beautifully. What the differences were between his yard and the places I visited, I don’t know.

Crabapples are blooming beautifully this year and some trees are so full of blossoms you almost can’t see the branches. The crabapple is the only apple truly native to North America and there are four species of them. They are Malus fusca, Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia and Malus ioensis. The tree in my own yard was full of blossoms last year and this year I couldn’t find a single one.

Apples are also doing well. We’re lucky to have wild apple and crabapple trees on forest edges almost everywhere you look. Many people don’t realize that apples aren’t native because they’ve been with us for so long. My grandmother had a few trees which, by the time I came along, were grown more for their flowers than for fruit. They were very fragrant and I have many happy memories of bringing branches full of flowers upstairs to her.

The fragrance of lilacs is all I smell when I go on my daily walks now. Almost every house on any street I walk on has at least one, but though it is the state flower of New Hampshire it is not native to North America. I’m glad we have them though. It just wouldn’t be spring without them.

I know of only two places where rare dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) grows and in one of them, I was happy to find many seedlings this year. This one’s flowers had deeply pleated petals, which is something I can’t remember ever seeing. You have to search for the very small plants because they don’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. I find them by a forested stream in ground that has never been cultivated that I know of.

Plants are very small and most will easily fit inside a teacup. 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. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked.

There are close to 45 species of pussytoes (Antennaria), which makes identifying them difficult, but they are popping up in lawns everywhere right now. They’re a good sign that the lawn has poor soil, because this plant likes to grow in sandy, rocky, almost gravel like soil. Pussytoes are a favorite of many butterfly species so they’re an important plant. Another common name for the plant is everlasting. Its female flowers seen in this photo.

The flowers of the pussytoes plant are said to look like cat’s paws, and that’s where they get their common name. Someone also thought the stamens on a male pussytoes flower, seen here, looked like butterfly antennae. I don’t know about that but that’s where the Antennaria part of the scientific name came from. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat coughs, fevers, bruises, and inflammations.

I learned a long time ago that trying to identify small yellow flowers can make you crazy so I pass most of them by, but this one follows me wherever I go. It could be a dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), which is native.

Whatever its name is I think the bright yellow flowers are pretty. I see them blooming everywhere right now.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is an old-fashioned shrub that I’m not sure is even sold any more, but back when I was gardening it was fairly common. This one is very old and large, and it was just coming into bloom when I found it.

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves do. It’s in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. I worked for a lady who called it Japonica, which is what it was called in the 1800s. I planted a quince hedge once for some people and it worked out well.

If you happen to be a violet lover this is your year. I’ve never seen so many.

I thought these were dog violets but if I go by the longish throat hairs they can’t be, because dog violets have short, stubby throat hairs. I learned that recently by reading the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog. It’s one of my favorites and it can be found over there on the right.

And what about this violet that looks like someone splattered it with paint? I found it in a garden at a local park.

Its name is “Freckles” (Viola Sororia Freckles) and I kind of like it, but knowing how quickly violets multiply as I do, would I dare plant it in a garden? I think I’d have to talk to someone who had planted it in their garden first to see if it was bent on taking over the world. I spent far too many years weeding violets out of gardens to have a nonchalant attitude about planting them, even if it is a cultivar.

I think tulip time is over now but this is my favorite for this post.

I like looking inside tulips, and this is why. You never really know what you’ll see, so it’s part of the fun.

These tulips had gone far beyond their best, but they were going out with a bang. Their petals moved like ocean waves and I thought they were passing on beautifully.

Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough. ~Jill Badonsky

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Last spring when I visited Yale Forest in Swanzey I stumbled upon one of the prettiest horsetails I had ever seen, the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) I have since read that it is indeed considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails and I wanted to see it again, so on a recent beautiful spring day off I went, back into Yale Forest. My chances of finding a single plant in such a huge forest might seem slim but I knew this horsetail liked wet feet, and I knew where the water was. 

An old road winds through this part of the forest and there is still plenty of pavement to be seen. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The old road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew along the sides of the old road.

Many thousands of violets also grow alongside the old road. They reminded me that I have to get up to the Deep Cut rail trail in Westmoreland to see all the violets that grow there. It’s a beautiful sight.

Fern fiddleheads were beautiful, as always.

New oak leaves were everywhere, and they were also beautiful. New leaves are one of the things I love most about spring.

New oak leaves are multi colored and soft, like felt.

Beeches were also opening up for spring. This one showed how all of the current season’s leaves and branches grow out of a single small bud. The miracle that is life, right here for everyone to see.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) out here and many were showing off their new spring flowers. They’re pretty, the way they dangle and move with the breeze.

It was such a beautiful day to be in the woods. The only sounds were the bird songs, and they came from every direction.

Sarsaparilla leaves (Aralia nudicaulis) still wore their spring reds and purples when I was here. At this stage they are often mistaken for poison ivy and that’s another reason to know what poison ivy looks like. From what I’ve read the color protects young leaves from strong sunlight. After a time as they become more used to the light they slowly turn green.

Sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew here and there in small groups and I would guess if it were left alone it might one day carpet the forest floor as I’ve seen it do in other places.

I saw an old dead tree, or what was left of it.

As I’ve said here before; you can find beauty even in death.

I was hoping I’d find some mallards in the beaver pond but instead I found that someone had taken apart the beaver dam. I’ve done it and it’s hard work but sometimes it is very necessary.

It was certainly necessary in this instance; the beavers had miscalculated and built the dam too high and the water finally spilled over the banks of the small pond and into the old road. If something hadn’t been done this whole area could have flooded. I’m all for letting animals live in peace without being disturbed but there are times when you have to do something to persuade them that maybe they haven’t made the best choice.

Shadbushes ( Amelanchier canadensis) grew by the beaver pond but they were about done flowering and their fruits, called June berries, were beginning to form.

It looked like the beavers had built their lodge partially on land, which I don’t see them do very often. I have a feeling this might be a young male beaver just starting out on its own, hoping a mate will come swimming upstream.

But I couldn’t concern myself with what the beavers were doing. It isn’t my land so I have to let them and Yale University straighten it out. I headed off into the woods, following the outflow stream from the pond. Right off I saw hundreds of goldthread plants (Coptis groenlandicum,) most still in in flower.

What pretty little things they are, just sitting and waiting for an insect to stop by and sip their nectar. Which they can’t do without getting poked by one of those long anthers. A dusting of pollen for a sip of nectar sounds like a fair trade.

Water plantain (Alisma subcordatum) grew by the outflow stream. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Something also must eat the leaves because they looked fairly chewed up. Maybe deer or bear. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots but I haven’t found any information about them eating the foliage. Though it is a native plant I rarely see it.

NOTE: I was thinking of another plant I’ve seen with huge leaves like this one when I wrote this; swamp saxifrage, but this is not that plant and neither is it water plantain. The swamp saxifrage I’ve seen had leaves that were chewed just like these but these leaves are very different when I compare the two photos. This could be skunk cabbage but I’ve never seen it out here and I’ve never seen its leaves get this big. I’m sorry for any confusion this might have caused.

And then there it was; the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum.) Its foliage is very lacy; different somehow than that of other horsetails, and it is this laciness that makes it so beautiful. In the garden horsetails can be a real pest but out here where they grow naturally they’re enchanting.

I got my knees and pant legs soaking wet taking these photos but it was worth it to see such a rare and beautiful thing. Or I should say, rare in my experience. I’ve never seen it anywhere else but it is said to grow in the U.K and Europe. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forests,” and that’s where the title of this post comes from.

Landscapes have the power to teach, if you query them carefully. And remote landscapes teach the rarest, quietest lessons. ~David Quammen

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I’m opening this post with an old fashioned shrub that many of you may not know, even though it’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

If you don’t like the orange pink color of the quince flowers in these photos there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars.

I knew I was too far away from this shadbush to get a good shot but I’m showing it here so you can see how shadbushes grow naturally and so you can see the painterly quality that is sometimes found in photos. If I was still painting I’d be all over this because I think it shows the beauty of spring.

Here is a closer look at what was so impressionistically out of focus in the previous photo; the beautiful blossoms of the shadbush, named after the shad fish that once swam in our rivers in numbers so great they couldn’t be counted. And if you want names this one has many; shadblow, serviceberry, June berry, and Saskatoon among them. Its Sunday go to meeting name is Amelanchier canadensis, and there are many cultivars that have been developed for gardens. In nature it tends to be a bit tall, narrow and lanky and bends into the sun, so hybridizers have come up with smaller trees that are bushier and more compact. Native Americans made arrows from its wood and used its fruit for food, often in pemmican. Its fruit is said to taste better than even blueberries, and that’s high praise in New England.

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, which are very early. Choke cherries come along soon after.

The bell shaped dangling flowers of sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) are so humble and unassuming you could walk by a forest full of them and not know it. And that’s where they like to grow; on the forest floor. 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, and you can see that in the photo. New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

You’ll see one or two strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each day for a week or so and then all of the sudden you’ll see them everywhere. I found this one along the shores of the river but I have a small sunny embankment in my yard that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms 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.

I saw the first highbush blueberry blossom (Vaccinium corymbosum) of the year. If all goes well and we don’t have a late frost we should have a good crop this year. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. 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.

Crabapples have just come into bloom and we have many, both cultivated and wild. This one grows in a field near an old abandoned factory. I like its deep color. 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.

Apple blossoms are one of those flowers that always make me think of my grandmother, because she loved them and I loved bringing them to her.

The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were spaced evenly all along a branch. They’re blossoming beautifully this year and I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. The large sterile flowers have opened but the tiny fertile flowers in the center are holding back. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The flowers on two of the three eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) that I know of were killed by frost and that’s really too bad, but the hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. Even though these trees were sheltered by buildings the cold still found them.

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) have just appeared and though I’m happy to see them I doubt many flower gardeners are. Though pretty, these little plants can over take a garden in no time at all if left to their own devices.

Violets are known for their prolific seed production. They have petal-less flowers called cleistogamous flowers which fling their seeds out of the 3 part seed capsules with force. They do this in summer when we think they aren’t blooming. Personally I tired of fighting them a long time ago and now I just enjoy them. They’re very pretty little things and their leaves and flowers are even edible. Though called “blue” they’re usually a shade of purple. We colorblind people don’t mind.

White violets seem shyer than the blue / purple ones.  I see one white for every hundred purple. I think they are the white wood violet (Viola sororia albiflora.) Note how the blue lines in its throat guide an insect to where the prize is found.

I was surprised to find a small group of yellow violets blooming. I think this is only the third time I’ve seen yellow violets, and I think they must be on the rare side here. I think these were either the round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. Or the downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together. Nature brings the two plants together naturally, as this small grouping reminded me the other day. In my opinion it’s the perfect combination.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) have just started blooming but they are sun lovers so there’s a good chance they won’t be blooming much longer with the trees leafing out.

Wood anemone is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

I first saw this very pretty little plant for the first time last year. It stands maybe a foot tall and the pretty flowers cover the plant. It is called the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus vernus) and this example grows in a local park.

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

I found an old ornamental cherry in bloom where I work. Since there are over one thousand varieties of cherry in the U.S. it’s doubtful that I’ll ever be able to tell you its name but its beauty was welcome on a cool spring day.

This bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) grows in a local park. It gets its common name from its pretty, heart shaped blossoms. Each blossom, if looked at from the right angle, appears to have a drop of “blood” dripping from it, and that’s where the name comes from.

A few trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally come into bloom, quite later than usual. Their 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.

My favorite part of a trout lily blossom is its back, because of the very beautiful markings. Of course beauty as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, so why not just take a little time and behold?

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

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Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. 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.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It 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. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because our beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) have just started blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. The slightly hairy leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

You can see where the name “gaywings” comes from in this photo. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. They’re a beautiful and unusual flower that I always look for in May.

I’ve never seen violets like we have this year!

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like the last two years, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

The flowers of rhodora usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but for the past couple of years they’ve been a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Another native azalea that can be hard to find in this area is called the early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora often blooms earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet. Finding a seven foot tall one of these blooming in the woods is something you don’t forget right away, and I think I remember the exact location of every one I’ve ever found. Unfortunately there aren’t many.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them.

Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can see here. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5. This year I’m seeing lots of plants with three flowers, which is unusual. Usually most of them have only two.

This blossom didn’t live up to the 7 theory with 8 petals. It also has 8 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

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 but 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 mowed lawns with islands of unmowed, blossoming fleabanes. I’ve seen several already.

The club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have appeared a little late this year and they seem smaller than usual. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated. The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

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

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) From what I’ve read I think this one, which blooms in a local park, is an example of that same tree. I’ve also read that bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. I had to zoom in on the blossoms quite far up in the tree while the wind blew them around so I’m kind of amazed that I even have this photo to show you. It’s a beautiful flower and well worth the effort.

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back whenever I smell them. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire 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. As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers.

The spicy fragrance of poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) reminds me of the paper white narcissus, which has a fragrance strong enough to make some people sick, but I love it. Poet’s daffodil is a plant that comes with a lot of baggage; it is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on, and it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields after most other daffodils have finished blooming.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) blooms among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It likes disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Here’s a sneak peak at the next flower post. One of our most beautiful native orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) just started to show color on their flowers as I was finishing this post. The moccasin shaped flowers start life colored a yellowish off white and then turn pink. I’m seeing lots of them this year and you’ll see more in the next flower post.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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John Muir once said “The mountains are calling and I must go.” To be honest I never paid much attention to that statement until the mountains started calling me. And as anyone who has climbed them knows, they do call; they kind of get under your skin and won’t stop calling until you answer them, so last Saturday I drove north to Stoddard to climb Pitcher Mountain. Pitcher Mountain gets its name from the Pitcher family, who settled this land in the 1700s. As mountains go it’s a relatively easy climb, even for someone who uses inhalers as I do. The last time I climbed here was in January. On this day the weather was considerably better and the spring greens and singing birds reminded me what a wonderful thing this life is.

Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberry bushes; thousand of them grow here and people come from all over to pick them. On this day the buds hadn’t even opened yet, showing what a difference elevation makes. Down in Keene they’re in full bloom.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) grew beside the trail and how very beautiful they were. Though like blueberries they’re also in full bloom in Keene, up here the fertile center flowers hadn’t shown yet. Only the much larger infertile outer flowers had opened.

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to become more familiar with my new camera. Anyone who knows their way around a camera should be able to use just about any camera handed to them, but they all have their little quirks that take time to learn and iron out. This one doesn’t have image stabilization but the lenses do and that’s something I’ve never encountered. On this day the sun was bright and the contrast high, and that’s a challenge for any camera but I thought this one performed reasonably well as this shot of a wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) and its shadow shows. The light green oval leaves belong to Canada mayflower, which will be blooming soon.

My first stop along the trail is always the meadow, where if you look behind you, you can often find a good view of Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It was fairly good on this day, I thought.

The meadow is also where you get your first inkling of how high up you are. The views seem to go on forever.

The meadow is large and sometimes you can find it filled with beautiful Scottish highland cattle. I’ve often thought that they must have the best views of anybody who comes here.

The trail is in a U shape and you take 2 left turns to reach the summit. After the meadow the trail, which is actually a road used by the forest rangers, gets very rocky. There are also lots of exposed roots so if you come here you would do well to wear good hiking boots with plenty of ankle support.

I was stunned to see spring beauties blooming (Claytonia virginica) up here because I’ve climbed this mountain more times than I can remember and I’ve never seen them before. My timing was off, that’s all, and I might have missed them by a day or a week. There was a nice little colony of them in this spot just below the summit. Tucked in snug they were protected from the worst of the wind.

Violets and strawberries grew along the trail and even down the center of it, where many had been stepped on.

The fire tower, manned on occasion, loomed at the summit. This is the second tower on this spot; the first burned in one of the largest forest fires this region has ever seen. That’s why I call it a monument to irony.

The old fire warden’s cabin still stood solidly but there was something different about it.

The difference was a gaping black hole where the last time I was here a board covered the window. It looked like vandals had been here but with so many people climbing this mountain I can’t imagine them getting away with it.

I don’t condone vandalism but realistically bears have been known to break into cabins countless times in this area so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this happened. I wasn’t about to pass up what was probably an only chance to see inside a ranger’s cabin though, so I turned on the flash and took a couple of photos. It looked like it had been furnished in the 1940s, and that was no surprise. I’m assuming there was no running water here because there is a privy in the back, but there was electricity.

If when you reach the tower you turn almost 180 degrees you’ll see another decent view of Mount Monadnock. You can also see the meadow in this view. On this day it was so gusty up here I could hardly stand still. I wanted to crouch on the ground so the wind couldn’t catch me.

But in a way the wind was welcome because it blew away all the black flies that had plagued me all the way up the trail. For those unfamiliar with them black flies are very small biting insects that appear for a few weeks in spring, hatching out of clean running water unlike the mosquito, which hatches out of still, stagnant water. Black flies feed on the blood of mammals for nourishment and they usually come in swarms. Bug spray helps keep them away.

What I call the birdbaths are natural depressions in the stone. With all the rain we’ve had I doubt they’ve been dry a day in the past two months. I once sat and watched a dark eyed junco take a bath here, and I was able to get a few shots of it splashing around. The blue of the sky deepens as it is reflected in these pools and it makes a simple puddle as beautiful as any jewel.

There are lots of lichens growing on the rocks of the summit and one of my favorites is the scattered rock posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans.) They can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

I always tell myself that I’m going to come up here with a compass and a topographical map so I can name all of the surrounding mountains but I never do. I don’t suppose it’s that important anyway. I’d rather just sit and look around, especially when I have the whole mountain to myself as I did on this day. I expected it to be crowded up here but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wondered if the flies kept people away.

It’s hard to tell from these photos but there is still snow on the ski slopes over there in Vermont.

I stayed on the summit for awhile trying different things with the new camera until my legs felt less rubbery and then I hit the trail again. I don’t know why going down always seems harder than going up, but my legs usually let me know that they aren’t thrilled by it.

The meadow is just to the left of the trail in that previous shot and as I looked out into it I thought a highland cattle calf had somehow gotten loose and was in the meadow eating grass but then wait a minute; that wasn’t a calf. As soon as it looked at me and sniffed the air with its snout I knew it was a black bear. And it was another big one. Though it might look far away in this photo it could have reached me in seconds. Black bears can move incredibly fast; 50 feet per second in fact, so running from one is pointless.

I’ll be the first to say that this is one of the worst photos I’ve ever shown on this blog but you can clearly see the roundish ears and long tan snout of a bear. You don’t have much time to fiddle around with a camera when a bear is staring at you like this and I didn’t have the zoom lens with me anyway, so I just took a couple of quick shots. I just went through this with another bear in Westmoreland and that one didn’t scare any more than this one did. It stood and stared and sniffed, just like this one. And just like that time once again I was the only human around, carrying no bear spray and with only one way out. Luckily this one turned into the forest while I wondered what I was going do if it started toward me, so I hoofed it back down the mountain somewhat faster than I usually do, slipping on loose stones and tripping over roots the whole way. It’s hard to walk downhill when you’re looking back over your shoulder I’ve discovered, and I don’t recommend it.

Nature, even in the act of satisfying anticipation, often provides a surprise. Alfred North Whitehead

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Our cool wet weather has held many flowers back from blooming but shadbushes are right on time. The plant is actually more tree than bush but they’ll start blooming when they’re quite small and at that size they do look like a bush. 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.

Shadbush gets its common name from the shad fish. Shad live in the ocean and 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.

The month of June was known to many Native American tribes as the “Strawberry Moon” because that was when most strawberries began to ripen. The berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to pemmican, soups, and breads. In the garden strawberries easily reproduce vegetatively by runners (stolons,) but the fruit was so plentiful in the wild that colonials in North America didn’t bother cultivating them until the early 1800s. The first documented botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454.

If you have dandelions and violets in your lawn, there’s a good chance that you also have wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana.) If the pollinators do their job each of these flowers will become a small but delicious strawberry. My kids used to love them, and they’d eat them by the handful.

Violets are having a rough time this spring because it seems like every time they open their flowers it rains. I’ve had quite a time getting a photo of one fully opened.

I did find a white violet fully opened. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

I’ve never seen Forsythias bloom like they are this year. The cool weather seems to be extending their bloom period. This one was in an old unused parking lot.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. You can see how its unusual brownish flower rests on the ground in this photo. This makes them difficult to get a good shot of.

For the first time ever I was early enough to see the round hairy buds of wild ginger. The bud splits into three parts to reveal the reproductive parts within.

Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. Native Americans used wild ginger roots as a seasoning, much like we would ginger root, but science has shown that the plant contains carcinogenic compounds that can cause kidney damage.

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

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It likes to grow in moist undisturbed soil in part shade. Native Americans used the plant to treat canker sores and told early settlers of its medicinal qualities, and this led to its being over collected into near oblivion. Luckily it has made a strong comeback and I see quite a bit of it. There’s a lot going on in a little goldthread flower. The white petal like sepals last only for a very short time before falling off. The actual petals of the flower are the tiny golden club like parts just above the white sepals. These are cup shaped and hold nectar for what must be very small insects, because the whole flower could hide behind an aspirin. My favorite parts are the yellow green, curved styles, which always remind me of tiny flamingos.

Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another plant that has had a rough spring because of all the cloudy, cool days. It likes sunshine but hasn’t seen much, and I’ve had quite a time finding one that was both dry and open. They have a very short flowering period so I doubt I’ll see many more, but you never know.

The flower shape of blueberries must be highly successful because many plants, like this Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica,) use the same basic shape. This evergreen shrub is usually planted among rhododendrons and azaleas here and as an ornamental is quite popular. Some call it the lily of the valley shrub, for obvious reasons. I like how the pearly white flowers look like tiny gold mounted fairy lights. In japan this shrub grows naturally in mountain thickets.

The small fertile flowers in the center of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) flower heads haven’t opened yet but the larger, sterile flowers around the outer edges have. Technically a hobblebush flower head is a corymb, which is just a fancy word for a flat topped, usually disc shaped flower head. It comes from the Latin corymbus, which means a cluster of fruit or flowers. All flowers in a hobblebush cluster, both fertile and infertile, have 5 petals.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) blossom by the thousands here so I thought I’d see how the new camera’s depth of field did. It wasn’t bad but it could have been better. In a forest with fallen logs and other obstacles it’s hard to get a very long shot. But the story isn’t about camera tricks, it’s about thousands of trout lilies that go on and on and not being able to show them properly. I’ll keep trying because I’d really like you to see what I see on this blog.

I’d guess that most people would find a flower like this one beautiful; or at least pretty. Multiply that by thousands and you have beauty that is close to indescribable.

Here is another try at depth of field, which did work but the flowers are so small you can hardly see them.

The tiny white flowers in the previous photo were of course spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,)and I fear we may have to say goodbye to these beautiful little things soon, but maybe the cool wet weather predicted for next week will keep them blooming a little longer. I hope all of you had a chance to see them, or at least something as beautiful.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring, usually in mid to late May. The flowers usually appear just when the irises start to bloom but this year they’re a little early. I often have to search for them on the banks of ponds because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye to the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica.) I doubt I’ll see them again this year because the sudden hot weather seems to have shortened their bloom time. Out of many thousands of plants that grow in this location this little group were all that was blossoming. I love seeing these pretty little flowers in spring and they’re part of why spring is my favorite season.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) that have bloomed for quite a long time this year. Though many blossoms  in this colony were wiped out when a huge old pine tree fell they’ve cleaned up the tree in time for the coltsfoot leaves to appear. That means they’ll be able to photosynthesize as they normally would,  so I’d guess they’ll all be blooming next year despite of the fallen pine.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and a colony as big as this one is a beautiful sight. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. It is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers their frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “coolwort” because the leaves were also used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

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.

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

I saw a hillside with creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) flowing down it so I had to stop and get a photo. Though few of us think of this plant as a wildflower it is actually native to the forests of North America. It is sometimes called moss phlox or moss pinks and it loves growing in lawns. Luckily it doesn’t seem to mind being mowed and many people wait until it’s done blooming to do their first spring mowing.

Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera that has much the same habit, but it is native only as far north as Pennsylvania. One way to tell them apart is by the darker band of color around the center of the flower; if it is there your plant is Phlox subulata and if it isn’t you have Phlox stolonifera.

It’s lilac time here in New Hampshire and you can find them blooming in almost every yard. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire 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.

As a boy I used to like sucking the sweet nectar out of lilac flowers and after I took this photo I found that I still do. I wish you could have smelled them!

Witch alder (Fothergilla major) is a native shrub related to witch hazel which grows to about 6-7 feet in this area. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum) is a little later than the purple trillium and just ahead of the painted trillium. They’re shy little things with flowers that hide beneath the leaves like the mayapple, and this makes them very hard to see. Even though I knew some plants in this group were blossoming I couldn’t see the flowers at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens. My least favorite thing is how hard they are to get a good photo of. At barely 6 inches from the ground there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver.

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, like last year, both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia. I thought this was a rare plant with two flowers but it was actually two plants growing very close together.

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.

A small clump of violets looked like purple butterflies had landed on it. Violets seem to be having a good year. I’m seeing a lot of them.

If you’re tempted to pass by what you think are violets you might want to take a closer look, because beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) are blossoming. Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets has fooled me in the past. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in pairs as can be seen in the photo above. Fringed polygalas are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen. The leaves were once used medicinally by some Native American tribes to heal sores.

Fringed polygala blossoms are also called gaywings and it’s easy to see why. They look as if they’re ready to take off. Each blossom is made up of five sepals and two petals. The two petals for a tube and two of the sepals form little wings. The little fringe at the end of the tube is part of the third sepal, which is mostly hidden. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringe the third sepal drops down to create an entrance to the tube. Once the insect crawls in it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen to carry off to another blossom. I usually find this one in shady, mossy places and I think it prefers moist ground. Some mistake the flowers for orchids and it’s easy to see why. I love to just sit for a while and look at them; they’re one of those beautiful and unusual flowers that I can find myself lost in.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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