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Posts Tagged ‘White Heath Aster’

This woodland path was dominated by white wood asters and goldenrods on either side and I didn’t see anything else blooming there, but though in this part of New Hampshire asters and goldenrods sing the loudest right now there are still other flowers to see. You just have to look a little closer to see them at this time of year, that’s all.

I found some very dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these might win the prize for 2017, but I’ll keep looking.

New England asters are large flowers and very beautiful, no matter what shade of purple they are. When light and dark flowers grow together the bees always seem to prefer the lighter ones but in this area there were no lighter ones so I had to hope I didn’t get stung. There were bees everywhere, and they were loving these flowers as much as I was.

The pink turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) are blooming in my garden; one of the very last plants to do so. A friend gave me this plant many years ago and I think of her every time I see it bloom. That’s one of the best things about giving and receiving plants; they come with memories. I don’t know the origin of this plant and have never known if it was a native or a cultivar but it does very well and asks for nothing. Pink turtleheads are native to the southeastern U.S. and don’t seem to mind dryness in spite of naturally growing near water.

It’s very hairy inside a turtlehead blossom. The hairs remind me of the beard on a bearded iris.

I was surprised to see common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) still blooming. The flowers are very small and hard to get a good photo of but they’re also very pretty and worth the effort. This plant is a European native and its leaves were once used as a substitute for tea there. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a garden flower native to Mexico. The flowers are usually daisy like, but some have tubular petals. Cosmos is an annual plant that self-sows quite reliably. If you’re careful weeding in the spring and don’t pull all the seedlings, a six pack of plants might sow themselves and produce seedlings year after year for quite some time. I found this one at the local college.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum ) are tall native perennials that can reach 8 feet, and with the flowers at the top I don’t get many chances to show them, but this plant had kindly bent over. It’s called cup plant because its leaf pairs-one on each side of the square stem-are fused together and form a cup around the stem. This cup usually has water in it. The plant produces resins that smell like turpentine. It was used medicinally by Native Americans.

Northern bush honeysuckles (Diervilla lonicera) are still showing their tubular, pale yellow flowers. This low growing shrub is interesting because of its orange inner bark. It isn’t a true honeysuckle, but gets its common name from its opposite leaves that resemble honeysuckles. It is native to eastern North America.

The little lobelia called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) blooms quite late but is almost finished for this year. Its small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long and pale lavender to almost white. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods. The plant gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering.

I was very surprised to find sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) still blooming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this late in the year. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. Here in this area it could hardly be called invasive; I usually have to hunt to find it. This beautiful example grew in an unmown field.

This pink rose grows in a local park. I was going to call it the last rose of summer until I saw all the buds surrounding it. It’s a beautiful thing but unfortunately it has no scent. Plant breeders will often sacrifice scent in favor of larger, more colorful blooms but give me an old fashioned cabbage rose any day. I grew up with them and they had a marvelous scent that I’ve never forgotten.

Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is an easy flower to ignore and I’m often guilty of doing so, maybe because it’s so common and I see it everywhere all through the summer, from June to October. At this time of year it would be easy to mistake annual fleabane for an aster if the fleabanes didn’t start blooming so much earlier. There’s also the fact that they just don’t have the “aster look” when you see the entire plant. There can sometimes be 40-50 small, half inch flowers blooming at the same time.

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster.

There are many asters that look alike and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids, so they can be hard to identify. One of the features that help with the identity of the heath aster is how it has nearly every inch of free stem covered by a blossom, all of them on the sunny side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.

White heath aster blossoms are fairly small; 1/4 to 1/2 inch across at best. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) should have stopped blooming quite a while ago but every now and then I stumble on a plant still in bloom. Since it’s one of my favorites I had to get another photo of it. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun.

Phlox still blooms here and there but it’s about time to say goodbye to these beauties for another year. Late summer wouldn’t be the same without them. Native Americans used phlox medicinally to heal sores and burns. They were among the first wildflowers in the United States to be collected and exported back to Europe, where they became very popular.

I saw a large swath of yellow from quite far away and I supposed it was a large colony of Jerusalem artichokes or one of the other native Helianthus species, but as I got closer I could see by the leaves that I was wrong. I’d been by this area many times and had never seen these plants but this time I saw a sign that said the area was a wetland restoration project, and warned me not to harm the plants or wildlife.

The yellow flowers, many hundreds of them, turned out to belong to the long-bracted tickseed sunflower (Bidens polylepis.) This plant likes wet feet and partial shade and is considered a wetland indicator. It is said to be of special value to native bees and is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of them. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year and is a native, but I wondered if it had been planted since I’ve never seen it. In any event it’s a native plant with a beautiful flower so it doesn’t really matter how it got here. Native Americans used the plant to treat fevers and I’ve read that it can produce natural dyes in brown and orange. I’m going to have to return next spring and summer to see what else might grow here.

Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn. ~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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1. Mum

There aren’t many garden flowers that say fall in New Hampshire like the chrysanthemum. The trouble is even though they’re sold as “hardy mums” few can survive our kind of winter cold and most will die. This one was given to me by a friend many years ago and despite having no special care whatsoever has survived winters when the temperature fell to 30 and 35 below zero F (-34 to -37 C.) Purple and white seem to be the hardiest of all the chrysanthemums.  Frost won’t hurt this one; it will bloom right up until a freeze.

2. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting’s (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. This example had a fully open flower which is something I don’t see that often. Usually the plant has many buds rather than open flowers. An odd name for this plant is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. They apparently decided to try smoking it too because it was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people. I’ve never seen a rabbit near it.

3. Indian Tobacco

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) looks like a fragile flower but it can take quite a lot of frost and the small pea sized blossoms can be seen until late in the season. It gets its common name from its swollen seed pods that are said to look like the tobacco pouches that Native Americans carried.  There doesn’t seem to be any records of Native Americans smoking it but it can make you very sick and they used it as an emetic. Burning the dried leaves is said to keep insects away but burning just about anything usually keeps insects away, so I’m not sure what that would prove for the plant.

4. Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooms earlier in the season then rests a bit and blooms again in the fall. The plant has more common names than any other that I can think of and one of them, bad man’s plaything, makes me laugh every time I see a yarrow plant. I can’t imagine how it came by such a name but it could have happened thousands of years ago; yarrow is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and has also been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time, and that is believed to be the reason for the plant being found in nearly every country on earth today. Native Americans used it for everything from snake bites to deodorant.

5. Yellow Toadflax

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is considered an invasive species but I don’t see it that often and I was surprised to see it blooming so late in the year. When the plant is grown under cultivation its flowers are used as cut flowers and are said to be long lasting in a vase. It has been used medicinally in Europe and Asia. It always reminds me of snapdragons.

6. Bee on Aster

New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) and other asters are popular with bees right now but something I noticed last year seems to be true this year as well; the bees visit the lighter colored flowers far more than the darker ones. That could explain why I don’t see the darker colored ones that often, but I wonder why bees would prefer one over the other.

7. Dark NE Aster

This is the darkest colored New England aster I’ve seen this year and though it was blooming profusely there wasn’t a bee on it.

8. Heath Aster

The white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a plant that is so loaded with small white flowers along its stems that it doesn’t look as if you could fit one more on it. For that reason it has another common name; the many flowered aster. Asters were burned by the Greeks to drive away serpents, and the Romans put wreaths made of aster blossoms on alters to the gods. In this country Native Americans used asters in sweat baths.

9. Bumblebee on Heath Aster

Bumblebees preferred the small flowers of the heath aster on this day and the plants were covered with them. They were moving very slowly though, and instead of flying crawled from flower to flower.  Our bee season, like our flower season, is coming to an end.

10. Wild Radish

I’ve seen many wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) flowers growing alongside corn fields but I’ve never seen one with such pronounced veins in its petals. Maybe the cold brings them out. Honey bees love these flowers. They can be white, purple, light orange or pale sulfur yellow. Photos I’ve seen of the white version also show pronounced veins in the petals. Wild radish is in the mustard family and is sometimes confused with wild mustard (Brassica kaber,) but that plant doesn’t have hairy stems like wild radish.

11. Dandelion

I’m not sure what’s going on with dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) but I’ve seen very few of them over the last two seasons. I used to see them virtually everywhere I went but I had to look for several days to find one for this blog last spring. I stumbled onto the one shown here. It seems very strange that they’d suddenly disappear, or could I somehow just not be noticing them? Is anyone else seeing fewer of them, I wonder?

12. Phlox

Though phlox seems to me more like a summer than a fall flower many of them will bloom until we see a hard frost. This purplish one was seen in a park so I think it’s a cultivar rather than a native plant, but we do have native purple phlox so I could be wrong. It was a spot of color that grabbed my attention and I was happy to see it, so I thought it needed to have its picture taken.

13. Vetch

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. I think this example is hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

14. Witch Hazel

Though I’ve seen dandelions blooming in a mild January witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is usually our latest blooming flower. Oddly enough the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) are among our earliest flowers, so this shrub has both ends of the season covered. Both are called winter bloom because they bloom so close to that season. My father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion handy, and this plant reminds me of him. Today’s witch hazel lotion recipe might have come down from Native Americans, who used the plant to treat skin irritation in the same way it is used to this day.

I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life – but there was no one to tell me. ~George Washington Carver

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1. Tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The ancient Greeks knew it well and it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne. It was brought from England by early colonists and by 1785 it had naturalized in New England. The flat flower heads are made up of many button-like disc flowers that have a peculiar, medicine like fragrance that some compare to camphor. The plant has a long history of use as an insect repellant and colonials added it to the straw in mattresses to keep bedbugs away.

 2. Possible Purple Stemmed  Aster-

Asters can be difficult to identify but I know a few of them well enough to feel comfortable making an identification. This one is one of the difficult ones. Its flowers look like New England asters but where those flowers are quarter size, these are barely nickel size. I think it might be the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum,) which is also called the swamp aster or glossy leaved aster, and I think that because it was growing near water and has a somewhat crooked, dark purple stem.

3. Purple Stemmed Beggar Ticks

I often find purple stemmed beggar ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. It has curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. It is closely related to bur marigold (Bidens tripartita), which is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar ticks comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year.

 4. Nodding Bur Marigold aka Bidens cernua

Nodding bur marigold likes full sun and wet feet and can often be found growing right beside its cousin the purple stemmed beggar tick that we saw in the previous photo. Its flower is much showier though, and looks something like a miniature sunflower. As they age the flower heads nod towards the ground and that’s how it comes by its common name. Another common name is nodding beggar tick, because its seeds are also barbed and also stick to just about anything that happens by. In this part of New Hampshire this plant grows about knee high, sometimes in standing water.

 5. Rose of Sharon

Though rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) isn’t a wildflower in New Hampshire but I thought I’d add it to this post because there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding it each year at this time. People don’t know if it’s a hibiscus or a mallow or a hollyhock, and that’s because all of those plants are in the mallow family (Malvaceae) and have similar flowers. The easiest way to identify a rose of Sharon is by looking at the plant the flowers are on. If the flower is on an upright, often tall woody shrub it is a rose of Sharon. Mallow and hollyhocks are perennials and / or biennials and will usually die back to the ground each year. Hibiscus resembles rose of Sharon but you’ll only find it growing outside year round in the southern states because it is very tender. I think of rose of Sharon as a hardy hibiscus.

6. False Dandelion

At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata) flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them. The flowers are much smaller than those of true dandelions and they sit at the top of long, wiry stems, much like hawkweed.

7. False Dandelion Foliage

False dandelion’s other common names include cat’s ear and flat weed; cat’s ear because of the hairs usually found on the upper and lower leaf surfaces and flat weed because the leaves usually lie flat on the ground. As seen in the photo above this plant wanted to be different and its smooth leaves are standing up. If it weren’t for the two wiry flower stems seen on the left you might wonder if I hadn’t taken a photo of a dandelion by mistake. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered a noxious weed in many areas.

8. White Heath Aster

I have misidentified this aster in the past as the small flowered white aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) but after taking a closer look I think it is the white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). There are many asters that look alike, and to complicate matters they cross breed and create natural hybrids. This one has 1/4 to 1/2 inch white flowers, and nearly every inch of free stem has a blossom on it all on one side of the stem. The shrubby little plants are about knee high and I find them growing in unmown fields and pastures.

9. White Heath Aster

This photo shows how all of the flowers grow on one side of the white heath aster’s stem. This habit makes the plant appear very bushy.

 10. Bladder Wort Plant

The swollen, air filled, modified leaf stems of the native little floating bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) radiate out from a point on the stem like the spokes of a wheel and keep the flower above the water while currents carry it over the surface of ponds. The parts of the plant that trail under the water look like roots and are where the bladders are located. Each bladder has small hairs on it which, when touched by an insect, trigger a trapdoor that opens quickly and sucks the insect inside. Once trapped inside there is no escape, and the insect is slowly digested.

11. Northern Water Horehound

I can’t think of a single time that I have found northern water horehound (Lycopus uniflorus) growing away from water. It’s an odd little plant that might get knee high on a good day, and often leans toward the water that it grows near. Its tiny flowers grow in round tufts at each leaf axil and remind me of motherwort, which has the same habit. It is in the mint family and has a square stem as so many of the plants in that family do. It is also closely related to American water horehound (Lycopus americanus) and the two plants are easily confused. Paying close attention to leaf shape helps tell them apart. The foliage is said to be very bitter and possibly toxic, but Native Americans used the tuberous roots for food.

 12. Northern Water Horehound Flowers

The flowers of northern water horehound are pretty little bell shaped things, but they are small enough to need a hand lens (or macro lens) to really appreciate them. They are pollinated by bees, wasps and flies and each one will become 4 small nutlets.  I don’t know what birds or animals eat the seeds, but muskrats love the roots.

13. Chicory

I’m happy to see that chicory (Cichorium intybus) is still going strong. I love its cheery, bright blue color. Our average first frost happens in mid-September, so this might be the last photo of it this year.

14. Tall White Rattlesnake Root aka Prenanthes trifoliate

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

15. White Snakeroot

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant is very toxic and in the early 19th century it killed thousands of settlers in the Midwest. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives.

Stop every now and then.  Just stop and enjoy.  Take a deep breath.  Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous

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