Posts Tagged ‘Water Hemlock’

Though I’ve seen nursery signs that read bee bomb, the correct name for this plant is bee balm (Monarda didyma,) probably because whoever named it thought it pacified bees. But it isn’t just bees that love it; hummingbirds will come from all over to visit its flowers. Bee Balm is also called horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot. The Native American Oswego tribe (Iroquois) showed early colonists how to make tea from bee balm leaves, so it has been called Oswego tea ever since. Its leaves are also used as an ingredient in other teas as well, and they can still be found in many stores. Many Native American tribes also used this plant medicinally. Bee balm will stand afternoon shade and is a no fuss plant that prefers to be left alone. When summers are humid it will occasionally get a case of powdery mildew.  

I was very surprised to see a native blue flag (Iris versicolor) blooming in July, but there it was. This iris usually blooms in April and May but plants seem to be doing odd things this year. These plants love water and near water is where I always find them. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.)

Another very odd thing I’ve noticed this year is how Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have been blooming continuously since March.

And I’m not just seeing a single plant with blossoms. I’m seeing many plants and hundreds of blossoms. This spring bloomer usually disappears in the heat of summer and re-appears in the fall but this year it is blooming right through one of the hottest, driest summers we’ve had in years. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant and the flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. The word pansy comes from the French pensée, which means thought or reflection.

I’ve seen a lot of white campion flowers but something told me to look closely at this one and when I did I saw something curious; it looked like a double blossom, with one flower growing over another. The petals on a white campion are split so what might look like 2 petals are actually one, but I took that into account and still counted 7 petals in all. If you look up white campion you find that it is supposed to have 5 petals, so that shows that flowers don’t read the flower identification guides. By the way, you can see that this is a female flower by the way its 5 elongated styles curl out over the central collar.

A side view shows how the petals were arranged over or on top of each other. Maybe this happens all the time, but I’ve never seen it. In the end I have to suppose that flowers can have as many petals as they want but to grow more petals they have to sacrifice something else, and that is often their reproductive parts like stamens.

I once thought that this plant was the only example of panicled trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen but then I found that I had misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

Native Rhododendron maxima (Rhododendron maxima) have reached the northernmost point of their growth here and there are very few of them in the area except for a pocket in Fitzwilliam New Hampshire, in a place called Rhododendron State Park. So rare is a place like it, it was designated a national Landmark in 1982.

This native rhododendron isn’t like others; its beautiful white to pink blooms appear in mid-July rather than in spring. The land that they grow on is low and often quite wet and I think that’s why they have been left alone since the first settlers came here. 

The big plants tower overhead in places and in a good year the white blossoms are everywhere you look. Anyone who loves rhododendrons or serious collectors of the shrubs should definitely see this.

Common quick weed (Galinsoga quadriradiata) comes from Mexico originally and how it happens to be in New Hampshire is a mystery. It is also called hairy galinsoga and is considered a weed even in its native range. It is said to be able to reduce crop yields by as much as half if left unchecked. The small flowers are about 3/8 of an inch wide and have five white ray florets widely spaced around the tiny yellow center disk florets. Another common name for the plant is shaggy soldier because of the very hairy stems. I almost always find it near vegetable gardens.

Purple loosestrife is an invasive plant that came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was originally dumped on Long Island, New York. The seeds grew, the plant spread and now it covers most of Canada and all but 5 of the lower Untied States. It likes wet, sunny meadows. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures but though it is much hated you can’t deny its beauty. A field of loosestrife and goldenrod is a truly beautiful scene.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a tiny flowered native plant that likes to grow at the water’s edge in sandy soil. Dwarf St. John’s Wort’s foliage usually looks untouched by insects or animals because it is slightly toxic. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 light green sepals and is about the size of a pencil eraser. Though very small the flowers of Canada St. John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense) are even smaller; about half the size of these.

I find pretty gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) growing in a local garden. The plant is a fast spreading perennial in the primrose family. It originally comes from China and Japan where it grows in moist mountain meadows, near streams and along roadways. It is considered very invasive and Its extensive root system is what makes it so invasive. It can form colonies that choke out other plants but the good news is that it spreads by its roots rather than by seed, so it gets no help from birds.

Tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) can reach 10 feet tall, towering above other plants in the area. This makes it easy to see but sometimes it’s not so easy to get a good photo of. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even the leaves on the same plant looking different from each other. Though it can reach 10 feet tall its flowers are very small; no more than a 1/4 inch across, and appear in loose clusters at the top of wiry stalks. Native Americans used the plant for pain relief, as a stimulant, and for calming the nerves. The milky white sap contains a compound called lactucarium, which has narcotic and sedative properties. It is still used in medicines today but should be used with caution because overdoses can cause death.

If you find this plant growing near water it’s best to maybe take a photo and pass it by because it is one of the deadliest plants known. In 1992 two brothers went searching the woods of Maine for American ginseng. After finding what they thought was ginseng, they ate part of the root. The younger brother became violently ill within 30 minutes and died in an emergency room less than 3 hours later. The older brother suffered through seizures and delirium, but lived. The brothers were 23 and 39 years old; old enough to know better than to eat unidentified plant roots. The root they had eaten was that of the water hemlock (Cicuta maculata.)

Water hemlock is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae) like Queen Anne’s lace and the root, which reportedly “smells delicious,” like a parsnip, can be mistaken for a wild carrot or parsnip. The lower stems are hollow and the white flower clusters, called umbels, are made up of small 1/8″ flowers with 5 petals and 5 stamens. The plant grows in moist places; usually near streams and ponds, and blooms in July and August. Water hemlock is closely related to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum,)  which is generally believed to be the poison that Socrates drank. Water hemlock is every bit as deadly and is listed by the USDA as the most violently toxic plant in North America. It grows in all but 2 states and is quite common.

The stem of the plant is smooth and hollow and often purple striped or spotted. It shouldn’t be broken because it contains toxic sap that can be absorbed through the skin. We should always remember to  teach children to never put any part of any plant in their mouth unless an adult is present. In this case even using the hollow stem as a pea shooter could be fatal.

When he went into the desert the singer of the song Horse With No Name by the band America says the first thing he met was a fly with a buzz. The question of where the fly got its buzz isn’t answered, but one of my theories is that it had visited a broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.)

The reason I think that is because the nectar of a broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects sip it they tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. Once the insect flies off it will most likely be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for the buzz it got from its nectar. Look at that little pencil eraser size cup full of what looks like caviar. What insect wouldn’t want to at least try a little taste?

Suddenly I realized
That if I stepped out of my body
I would break Into blossom.
~James Wright 

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

When you travel east from Keene, New Hampshire on Route 101 towards the seacoast, before too long you see quite a large hill on your right. Between this hill and the highway is a strip of flat ground that is maybe 300 feet wide at its widest point and maybe a half mile long. I drive by this strip of land quite often and have seen cattails growing there in the past. I’ve also noticed that the area gets full sun, and full sun along with soil wet enough for cattails might mean orchids, so I had to stop and see.This tiny flower is very beautiful, in my opinion. It is called Blue vervain (Verbena hastate.) This native can grow to 5 feet tall and the ones I found were well on their way to reaching that height.  Such unusual height and a beautiful blue color make these flowers easy to spot. Wildflower books often say that these flowers are more purple than blue but since I’m color blind I go by their common name and believe that they are blue. This plant likes its feet wet and its head in the sun. It wasn’t growing in standing water but the soil was making squishing noises under my feet. As you might expect, this plant is an insect magnet. This one, on the other hand, was growing in low standing water and I got my feet wet getting this picture. This is native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata,) which is an aquatic plant. You can spot this plant long before it blooms because of its large, heart shaped leaves that stand straight up out of the water. Books tell me that the flowers are violet-blue and I certainly won’t argue that point, though they look blue to me. Pickerel weed grows from and underground stem called a rhizome which can be as much as 2 feet underwater.  The plant’s strong stems keep the leaves and flowers above water. I think it’s a beauty but unfortunately you usually can’t get close to it without a boat or waders.Contrasting nicely with the blue vervain and pickerel weed were bright yellow swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris.) This plant is in the loosestrife family and each of the 5 yellow petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. This plant is easy to identify-I can’t think of another that has loose, yellow flower spikes (racemes) like this one unless it is broad leaved goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis,) but its leaves are very different. This is a native that grows to about 3 feet and likes boggy places. This is another plant called loosestrife-the much maligned purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria.) This plant is not a native but is originally from Europe and Asia and came over as a garden ornamental. It is not related to our native loosestrife, but shares its name. The problem with importing plants is that the foreign insects and diseases that keep the plant in check in its native land aren’t here in this country, so the plant has freedom to spread as much as it can. That is exactly what purple loosestrife has done. I’ve seen it growing so thick on stream banks that you couldn’t see a native plant anywhere, whereas 10 years earlier natives were all that were there.  Purple loosestrife will grow in standing water but is usually found on wet, solid ground. It is very tall and easily seen. It is also blooming more than a month early this year.This beautiful thing is the flower cluster of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate.) It is also called rose milkweed for obvious reasons.  The flower head was about the size of a baseball. This native isn’t common here at all, so I was very happy to find it. Hummingbirds and too many insects to list love this plant but its leaves are toxic so animals leave it alone. It is much taller than common milkweed and is the only milkweed that will grow in wet places. It doesn’t like standing water but mucky soil doesn’t bother it. The leaves are also much narrower and longer than those of other milkweeds.I was very surprised to find this Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) growing here. I can’t say that it is rare but I’ve never seen it and I had no idea what it was when I was taking pictures of it.  It wasn’t too hard to identify though, because there aren’t too many flowers that look like it. According to the USDA it grows in almost every state in the country and nearly every Canadian province, which also surprises me. Why haven’t I ever seen it (?)I ask myself. I have to admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time in swamps, but I will be doing so in the future. These plants were about 2 feet tall and growing in wet, sandy soil. Each plant had only 4 or 5 flowers strung along the stem, coming out of the leaf axils. Some say the flower looks like a monkey’s face, but I’m not seeing it. I’ve read that the flowers can occasionally be pink or white. This one looks very pink, and very beautiful to me. The native Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa ) were easy to miss, growing as they were down at shin height among all of the other towering plants. They were closing up for the evening just as I found them and were doing so because they are in the evening primrose family, and that’s what evening primroses do.  I was surprised at how small these plants were and at first didn’t think they were sundrops, but the X or cross shaped stigma in the center of the flower convinced me.  These plants were growing in wet, sandy soil in full sun but were somewhat shaded by the taller plants all around them, which might account for their smaller than usual size. Speaking of tall plants, this white sweet clover (Melilotus albus ) had to be at least 6 feet tall. It is also called tree clover, for good reason. This is another introduced plant now considered invasive. One feature of this plant that makes identification easier is the furrowed stem. It has three leaflets to a leaf stem (petiole) like all clovers and the slightly fragrant flowers have the shape of pea flowers.  White sweet clover attracts many insects and birds eat its seed. Rabbits and deer eat the leaves but they are said to be mildly toxic to livestock. It was introduced from Europe and Asia as a green manure and has escaped into the wild. This native meadow sweet (Spiraea latifolia) shrub looks much like a spirea because that is exactly what it is. This woody shrub grows to about 3 feet tall and usually has white flowers, but occasionally they are pale pink like those in the photo. This is an unusual shrub because it prefers wet ground. There aren’t many shrubs that do. There is a very similar plant called hardhack but its leaves are hairy and those on meadow sweet are smooth.Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) is another plant that prefers wet places but it also prefers cool temperatures, which was why I was a little surprised to find it growing beside the road in a wet, sunny meadow. It could be that the taller plants were shading it enough to keep it cool. Brown knapweed is originally from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  Black knapweed, spotted knapweed and tyrol knapweed are others that I know will grow in New Hampshire. The color of the tips of the bracts under the flower is one aid to identification, but it’s a bit too involved to go into here.  A good field guide will help with this one.This pink and white spider with red racing stripes was crawling over a water hemlock blossom; a plant that is about as poisonous as they come. This is the female goldenrod spider, who is a member of the crab spider family. I didn’t know anything about crab spiders until I found one in a photo I had taken. It was strange because I didn’t see the spider when I took the photo, but fellow blogger jomegat explained that these spiders can change color. The goldenrod spider can change from white to yellow and back again. If it wasn’t for her red stripes, I probably wouldn’t have seen this one.  Something I find particularly interesting about these spiders is that they don’t build webs. Instead they just blend into the flower color and ambush their prey.  I’ll be a little more careful about where I put my nose from now on!

 If you love it enough, anything will talk with you ~ George Washington Carver

Well, I never did find an orchid but I hope you enjoyed seeing what I did discover in the boggy meadow. I’ll be watching to see what else might bloom here. Thanks for visiting.


Read Full Post »