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Posts Tagged ‘Water Lobelia’

Beautiful blue ribbons of pickerel weed flow in the shallows of ponds, rivers and streams in July. Thousands of flowers draw bees and other pollinators in such numbers it sometimes seems like the plants themselves are humming. And of course they really are humming; vibrating with life force. Pickerel weed is easily one of our most beautiful aquatics and they appear in far larger numbers than any other.

Pickerel weed has small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

One advantage of the drought has been the ability to walk up to plants that grow offshore and study them up close. This is a pickerel weed flowerhead in bud; something I doubted I’d ever get this close to. It’s amazingly fuzzy for a water plant. See how it spirals? Spirals are found everywhere; in the human ear, in entire galaxies billions of light years across, and in plants of many various species. Why? What is it about the spiral that makes it so special?

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow fringed loosestrife that I spoke of in a recent post. But fringed loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are less than half the size as those of fringed loosestrife.

Floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos are very hard to come by but I got lucky this year because the water is low. In fact I found hundreds of examples of this tiny native waterlily very close to shore. They have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from.  

This is the tiniest waterlily that I’ve ever seen; about the size of a common aspirin, but are still every bit as beautiful as the much larger fragrant white water lily blooms they resemble. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers.

Cattails (Typha latifolia) can form an impenetrable wall and can soar overhead in some places along the shoreline. I’ve seen them 8 feet tall or more. Cattails (Typha latifolia) were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread. Cattails are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the swamps, ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds.

Ping pong ball size buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower heads look like frilly pincushions with their long white styles sticking out of the tubular flowers the way they do. This native shrub is almost always seen near water and I found this one on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Once the flowers go by a red seed head will form, which will turn brown as the seeds ripen. Waterfowl of all kinds love the seeds which, since buttonbush grows near water, are easy for them to get to.

Pipewort  grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

When you see its leaves pipewort looks just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater so you rarely see them. On this day the drought had left them high and dry. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize.

I bent a pipewort down to a penny so you could get an idea of size. It’s one of the smallest flowers you’ll find on pond edges. It is said that the water quality is good wherever this plant grows. 

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance. The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) grows just off shore and is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

When I saw this plant growing at the edge of a beaver swamp I thought I knew what it was; swamp saxifrage, but something about it wasn’t right so I decided to wait and go back later to see what it did.

When I its flowers I knew it wasn’t swamp saxifrage. That plant has bigger and fewer flowers. After some searching I found that it was water plantain (Alisma subcordatum,) which is a plant I’ve never seen. I’ve read that it is also called mud plantain and its seeds are eaten by waterfowl. Native Americans cooked and ate its roots. Though it is a native plant I think it must be on the rare side in this area.

Water plantain’s tiny flowers have 3 green sepals, 3 white or pink-tinged petals, and several stamens and pistils, all packed into something half the size of a pencil eraser. Somehow nature can surprise, delight and amaze all at the same time.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is on the rare side here; I only know of one pond it grows in. It is said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

A small St. John’s wort grows that grows right at the water’s edge is I believe pale St. John’s wort (Hypericum ellipticum,) according to what I’ve read. Oddly, the flowers of pale St. John’s wort aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. To anyone. Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) also grows at the water’s edge but its flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser. Canada St. John’s wort comes next but it grows in dry meadows and it’s flowers are less than half the size of a pencil eraser. It has taken me years to sort it all out.

But in the end what does it matter? The flowers are beautiful and, as Amit Ray once said: “Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises.”

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has the ability to make time vanish for me, because it takes me out of myself. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful of all the milkweeds and is one of those flowers that I most look forward to seeing each summer. I recognize a truly beautiful flower as something that makes me quiet because I’m so dumbstruck all I’m able do is stand and admire it.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Island

On Sunday some friends and I decided to take our kayaks out for the first time this season. The water in Wilson Pond in Swanzey was warm enough for a dip, in case a mishap should happen and one of us got wet. We started our journey by paddling past the island in the pond.

2. Chop

It was a beautiful day and the sun felt hot as we paddled, but luckily there was a stiff breeze that cooled us. Though welcome, it also made the water quite choppy and would blow your kayak across the water as if it were a sailboat if you stopped paddling.

3. Channel

Secluded coves and channels meant we could find some shade and get away from the wind for a while. The water in some of these channels is very shallow; I’m not sure you’d even get your knees wet if you walked them. Last year there were a lot of ducks here but on this day we didn’t see a single one.

4. Beaver Birch

Beavers had cut down many of the white birch trees along the shore but they left them behind and didn’t even eat the new twigs on their crowns, which seems odd behavior for a beaver. Some trees were hard to paddle around.

5. Cove

I’ve never seen any white water lilies in this pond but yellow pond lilies (Nuphar lutea) like to grow in coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm.

6. Bullhead lily Seed Pod

The seeds of the yellow pond lily 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.

7. Pickeral Weed

Native pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) blossomed in small colonies just off shore. If you see pickerel weed you can expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid. These examples were only about two feet high but I recently saw others that were as tall as a great blue heron.  I didn’t know that they grew so tall.

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Pickerelweed’s common name comes from the pickerel fish because they were once thought to breed only under its leaves. Each of the small, tubular flowers on the spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the seeds into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. Though humans can eat the seeds and new spring shoots of this plant there is no record that I can find of Native Americans using it for food.

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Maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrubs look much like a blueberry, even down to their flowers, but these flowers are much smaller than those of blueberry. I’d guess barely half the size of a blueberry blossom. The two shrubs often grow side by side and look so much alike that sometimes the only way to tell them apart is by the maleberry’s woody brown, 5 part seed capsule. These seed capsules stay on the shrub in some form or another year round and are helpful for identification, especially in spring when the two shrubs look nearly identical.

10. Maleberry Seed Capsules

I’ve included this photo of the maleberry’s seed capsules that I took earlier so you could see what they look like. They are very hard and woody and appear near the branch ends.

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Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

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Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

13. Swamp Roses

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) bloomed in great numbers on the hummocks along the shoreline but I had trouble getting close to them. The 2 inch flowers are very fragrant and though the plant prefers wet to moist soil it will also grow in dry ground. It would be an excellent choice for a home pond or near a stream.

14. Bur Reed 2

Bur reed is another plant found growing just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

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The female flowers of bur reed are less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

16. Pipewort

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) isn’t common in this area and doesn’t grow in this pond, but I’ve included it because it’s an unusual aquatic that isn’t often seen. In fact, I know of only two ponds that it grows in. The plants grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers.

17. Pipewort

Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticus, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you are left with is a wool-topped stem growing in water, and that’s exactly what pipewort is. I’ve found that its flowers are close to impossible to get a good photo of.

18. Lobelia

When I found a new spot for pipewort plants this year I also found a new plant that I’d never seen; water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.)  I can’t speak for its rarity, but I’ve never seen it in any pond I’ve visited. It’s said to be a more northern species, so that could be why. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands.

19. Lobelia Blossom

The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl.

20. Cattails

Cattails (Typha latifolia) formed an impenetrable wall and soared overhead in some places along the shoreline. They must have been 8 feet tall or more.

21. Going Back

As the old saying goes all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to turn for home. I’ve found that an hour or so in a kayak is about all my back can take, but what a fun filled hour it can be. It’s an excellent way to get close to aquatic plants.

We are but a speck in the universe
Oh, but what a lucky speck to be.
~Kehinde Sonola

Thanks for coming by.

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