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Posts Tagged ‘Water Arum’

Our beautiful fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started to bloom and that always makes me want to show you our aquatics, so off I went to search our rivers, ponds, and ditches for all the plants that like wet feet.

Growing in the wet mud at the edge of a pond was a plant I’d never seen before; the lance leaved violet (Viola lanceolata.) It is also called the bog white violet or strap leaved violet, for obvious reasons. The plant needs a wet, sunny habitat, preferably one that floods and then dries out. It is listed as present in 8 out of the 10 counties in New Hampshire but though I’ve been on a lot of pond shores, I’ve never seen it. It is said to be rare in Vermont.

At first the flowers look like any other white violet but then you notice that it has no hairs on the side petals like other violets. The flowers nod on stems that can be as much as 6 inches long and both the bottom and side petals can have purple veining. This little plant only blooms for three weeks.

What makes the lanced leaved violet easy to identify is its leaves, which can be very long indeed. They are said to be 3-5 times longer than they are wide but I think this one exceeded that.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) isn’t at all common here but you can find them. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve found them just twice. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic so it should never be eaten. From what I’ve seen even animals won’t eat it. There are deer all over the swamp it grows in but not a leaf had been munched.

The flowers are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix. They will be followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank. The spot where I found these plant is wet most of the time but it does dry out occasionally.

I think this one is ribbon leaved pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus.) If so it has two types of leaves; submerged leaves which are ribbon like, thin and transparent, and surface leaves which are said to be broad and elliptical. Since I’d call these leaves more long and narrow than broad and elliptical the jury is still out, even though they do look like the photos I’ve seen. In any case it is a common plant that I find in the river more than in ponds.

You might make a friend or two when you walk along the shoreline.

Or you might get lost in the ever changing patterns made by tree pollen floating on the surface. It’s a good year for pollen. Just ask any allergy sufferer.

Unless you have a boat you don’t get this kind of photo of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) because they usually grow a few yards from shore, but since we’re so dry right now though I found this one right at the water’s edge. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

Here’s a rare top view of the yellow pond lily blossom. These plants like to grow in protected coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm but you’ll get your feet wet getting to it.

Common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza) normally floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort, maybe a half to an inch long, and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

I’ve been very lucky finding plants I’ve never seen before this year and here is another. There is a swamp where I work and in early spring I saw hundreds of small round, scalloped edged leaves growing on a few of the hummocks there. I wasn’t sure what they were so I watched them for weeks and finally, tall stalks with purple buds shot up from the leaves. Of course I started looking in guide books for purple flowers but that wasn’t it; when they opened they were yellow with orange centers and that led me to roundleaf ragwort (Packera obovata.)

The leaves aren’t round but they do start out that way in spring.

Stem leaves are very different.

Nurseries are selling round leaved ragwort but you’ll need to keep its feet wet and its head in the sun, which is a tall order for most gardens. It is said to spread rapidly and I can attest to that because I walked by the spot where it grows many times and for years didn’t see it. It is also called roundleaf groundsel, running groundsel, and squaw weed. Though its leaves are said to be toxic they were used in a tea by Native Americans and early settlers to ease childbirth. It was also used to treat lung ailments.

Blue flag irises are native, but yellow flag irises are not. I saw a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank a few years ago and what was a few clumps has now become a small colony.  I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right along the shoreline in full view.

This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is still a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like in 50 years. The plant is useful in certain ways; it is used in sewage treatment and is known to be able to remove metals from wastewaters, so maybe we could use them for that. 

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along streams. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley. On this day it was almost ready to bloom but it hadn’t yet.

Narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow but luckily this day the water had dried up due to lack of rain. It might seem odd that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but there is usually standing water here. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a not very good closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking and fortunately I know a pond or two that fits that description. There are many other aquatics that haven’t bloomed yet, so we’ll be visiting the water again.

Water is sufficient…the spirit moves over water. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for stopping in. Happy first day of summer!

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