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Posts Tagged ‘White Meadowsweet’

Last Saturday it rained most of the day but Sunday had hit or miss showers so I hoped for the best and went for one of my favorite walks along the Ashuelot River in Keene. It was a damp, humid day.

I’ve known this section of river all my life. I used to fish here at the dam when I was a boy and they still fish for trout, pickerel and sunfish here today. All I ever caught were perch and dace but the river was a lot dirtier in those days. This dam is known as the Faulkner and Colony dam because it was built around 1777 by that company to power their mill. A few years ago there was talk about removing it to open up the river and another idea would refurbish it to generate power but I haven’t heard anything lately about either idea. I like the thought of restoring the river to what it once was without any dams on it. Two other dams have been removed in the past 20 years; one in Swanzey and one in Hinsdale.

Twelve Native American sites have been found along this section of river so far. At least one site dates back 10, 500 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these trails were originally made by the Natives, because they hug the river closely and have many good fishing spots along them.  The word Ashuelot means “collection of many waters” in Native American language and many small tributaries pour into it throughout the area. The Ashuelot in turn, empties into the Connecticut River before it finally finds its way to the Atlantic.

Arrowwood viburnum berries (Viburnum dentatum) were ripe along the shore but hadn’t been touched by the birds.

Elderberries on the other hand, were being eaten the minute they ripened. There were green berries and half ripe red berries, but no fully ripe purple-black berries on this bush. I don’t suppose I’ll ever understand why birds choose to eat what they do. We still have staghorn sumacs full of last year’s fruit, and what’s wrong with viburnum berries?

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) still blooms alongside rivers and ponds but its cousin steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) has finished. Native Americans used both plants medicinally.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) was ready to call it a summer. The leaves on this plant sometimes turn a beautiful purple color at the end of summer. Some Native American tribes used this plant to treat nosebleeds and others used it as a spice. It likes to grow in disturbed soil near water.

The most popular spot for turtles in this part of the river is the end of this old log. You can almost always see a turtle or two on it at any time of day so it’s a good place for children to walk. When I was a boy it seemed like this place had everything a boy could want, and I spent many happy days here.

In places the trail widens enough so that 4 people could walk side by side, but this width doesn’t last. On most of the trail 2 people side by side is more like it.

The prize for the most unusual thing I saw on this day has to go to what I think is a bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii.) This large fungus gets its common name from the many droplets of blood red liquid it exudes when young. Though some of the droplets on this example were red most were more amber colored. The “tooth” part of the common name comes from the spines on its underside. The liquid the fungus oozes contains a chemical called atromentin, which has anti-bacterial and anticoagulant properties.

Here is a look at the mushroom under LED light, which shows that most of the droplets are not red. Because of the color of the liquid and the fact that I found it growing on a tree rather than on the ground I question my identification, but I can’t find another mushroom that “bleeds” and grows on trees. If you know of another species that does this and grows on trees I’d love for you to tell me about it.

A large tree had fallen into the river on the far side. This is a fairly regular occurrence and it always reminds me that, however slowly, the river is always getting wider. It was also quite high due to all of the rain. I think we’re up to about 10 inches in three weeks, according to the rain gauge where I work. This is after a moderate drought in the first half of summer and the dry land has been sponging it up fairly well until lately. Now there aren’t many places for more water to go. Even the forest floor has standing water on it in many places, so we need a dry spell. As I write this it’s pouring rain yet again.

Something had been munching on the starflowers (Trientalis borealis.) The Trientalis part of the plant’s scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin, and that’s just about how tall this pretty little plant gets. The spring woods wouldn’t be the same without its white star shaped flowers. This one had a seed pod; you can just see the tiny white dot between the leaf at 12 o’clock and the one at 1 o’clock.

Tiny starflower seedpods always remind me of soccer balls. They’re just about the same size as an air gun BB. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

I saw some colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor,) the first fresh ones I’ve seen this season. I’m hoping to see lots of blue and purple ones this year.

Woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata) looks almost like goldenrod from a distance. The small yellow flowers grow on long spikes (racemes) on a short, knee high plant.

Woodland agrimony is said to be rare in New England and I believe it because this is one of only two places I’ve ever seen it. It grows in the shade near a tangle of many other plant species. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years dating back to at least ancient Egypt. Though the plant is said to be native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans, and that’s unusual. It is also called roadside agrimony.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of my summer favorites, mostly because it dresses in my favorite color. This is another plant that loves water and it grows near ponds and rivers, and even wet roadside ditches. The bitter roots of this plant were used by native Americans to relieve gastric irritation, as an expectorant, and to induce sweating. The seeds were roasted and ground into flour by some tribes, and others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to treat nosebleeds. Natives introduced the plant to the Europeans and they used it in much the same ways.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place was because I had seen narrow leaved gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) blooming in Nelson the previous week and I wanted to see if the closed or bottle gentians (Gentiana linearis) were blooming. Not only were they not blooming, they were barely budded. Narrow leaf and closed gentian flowers look identical, so you have to look at the leaves carefully to tell the difference. These leaves are wider and have a different overall shape than those of narrow leaf gentian.

The trail narrowed and got muddy after a time, but I was too busy enjoying all the wildflowers to care.

One of the wildflowers I saw was spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis,) which gets its name not from its orange flowers but from the way raindrops sparkle like jewels on its wax coated leaves.

I turn around at this little bridge because not too far beyond it you come to one of the main roads through Keene, and I didn’t need to see it again. Though this was a wet walk I made it all the way back and never did get rained on. It always does me good to be close to the river. I always come away feeling recharged, as if the 12 year old me has joined the me of today. I think that must be mainly due to the memories, because there isn’t a bad one to be found here.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~ Buffalo Joe

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A lot of our aquatics and pond side plants bloom at this time of year and one of the prettiest is meadow sweet (Spirea alba.) This plant likes moist ground and I have found it near water more often than not but lately I’ve been seeing it in drier spots as well. Its flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy. Some people confuse this plant, which is a shrub, with steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), which is also a shrub, but steeplebush has pink flowers and the undersides of its leaves are silvery-white, while the undersides of meadowsweet leaves are green.

Aquatic 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.

We have many different varieties of St. Johnswort and the one above I first thought was  dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum,) but the flowers were too big. Dwarf St. Johnswort flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser and these are nearly the size of common St. Johnswort. So then I thought it might be pale St. Johnswort (Hypericum ellipticum) but the flowers aren’t pale yellow, they’re bright lemon yellow.  Note how big the leaves are; much bigger than common St. Johnswort.

Dwarf St. Johnswort, pale St. Johnswort, and this St. Johnswort all grow in the wet mud at pond edges.
I’ve had trouble sorting it out with plant guides but if you know I’d welcome your thoughts. It’s a very pretty flower and obviously a St. Johnswort.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is another aquatic that has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. 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. It’s a plant that often forms large colonies.

Native Americans washed and boiled young pickerel weed’s leaves and shoots and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a geranium that grows on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Surry, which is north of Keene. My question, once I had identified it, was: Robert who? As it turns out Robert was a French monk who lived in 1000 AD and cured many people’s diseases using this plant, and that leads to another common name: Saint Robert’s Herb. If you crush its leaves they are said to smell like burning tires, so yet another common name is stinky Bob.

This is the first time white avens (Geum canadense) has appeared here, mostly because I’ve always been too late to get a photo of it. I know of only one place where it grows and thimbleweed also grows there. With its bigger, showier flowers thimbleweed has always stolen the show and I’ve forgotten about white avens. Each flowers is about a half inch across with 5 white petals and many anthers. The anthers start out white and then turn brown and you usually find both on each flower. Each flower becomes a seed head with hooked seeds that will stick to hair or clothing.

Tall thimbleweed’s (Anemone virginiana) white flower sepals don’t seem to last very long. Every time I see them they have either turned green or are in the process of doing so, and you can just see a hint of green on two or three of these. That means if you see them in bloom that’s the time to get a photo. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils, even after the flowers turn green. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch.

Thimble weed’s seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. Though the plant is poisonous Native Americans used the root to ease whooping cough and the smoke from the seeds was used to treat breathing difficulties.

Last year I found a small colony of long leaf speedwell (Veronica longifolia.) I’m happy to say it looks bigger this year. I’ve never seen it growing in the wild before then. It’s a pretty plant that is native to Europe and China and grows on steppes, grassy mountain slopes, meadows at forest edges and birch forests. Here in the U.S. it is commonly found in gardens but it has obviously escaped. It certainly doesn’t seem to be aggressive or invasive. I love its showy blue flower spikes.

Each tiny long leaf speedwell blossom is purple–blue or occasionally white, about a quarter inch across and 4 lobed with quite a long tube. Each has 2 stamens and a single pistil.

I like both single and double roses. This beautiful example of a single rose had enough scent for both.

Perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a beautiful little flower that I’ve never seen before. Originally from Europe it has been grown in gardens here in the U.S. since the 1700s. Of course it has escaped gardens and now can be found along roadsides and in waste areas. I found these plants growing along a small stream and I was surprised that I had never seen them before. It is a vining plant that I’ve read can reach 9 feet, but these weren’t more than a foot tall, so maybe they’re young plants. It is also called wild sweet pea, everlasting pea, and hardy sweet pea. The pods and seeds are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) has just come into bloom and I’m happy to see it because I think it’s a beautiful flower. It’s one of those that seem to glow with their own inner light and I enjoy just looking at it for a time. Crown vetch has seed pods look that like axe heads and English botanist John Gerard called the plant axewort and axeseed in 1633. It is thought that its seeds somehow ended up in other imported plant material because the plant was found in New York in 1869. By 1872 it had become naturalized in New York and now it is in every state in the country except Alaska.

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

I like a challenge and each year at this time my greatest challenge comes from the tiny flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis.) This woodland plant is a shade lover and I notice it along trails only when it blooms in July. It gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

Each tiny 1/8 inch wide enchanter’s nightshade flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. I’m guessing that I must have tried 50 times or more for this one photo and it still isn’t as good as I hoped it would be. It should be sharper.

At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

When our native yellow loosestrifes have all bloomed then it’s time for purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) to start in and despite the belief that they need wet places to grow in I found these plants at the edge of a dry cornfield. Purple loosestrife is an invasive 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. Purple loosestrife chokes out native plants and forms monocultures. These colonies can be so large that finding a single plant is becoming very difficult.

Though it is much hated you can’t deny the beauty of purple loosestrife. I’ve worked for nurseries in the past and have had people come in wanting to buy “that beautiful purple flower that grows in wet areas.” In New Hampshire I could be heavily fined for selling or planting it.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is one of those flowers that take 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. How could you not look forward to seeing something so beautiful? I could look at it all day. Swamp milkweed is somewhat rare here. I know of only two places it grows.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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1. Fragrant White Water Lily

Our native white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started blooming here. The flowers are quite small and at first I thought I might be seeing a smaller variety like floating hearts which are also white, but the sharp V shaped notch in the leaf confirms that they are white lilies. I might have been able to tell by their fragrance too, but I couldn’t get quite close enough to smell them.

 2. Beauty Bush

I like the webbing on insides of beauty bush flowers (Kolkwitzia amabilis.) This shrub hails from China and is popular as an ornamental, but I found an escapee growing at the edge of a forest in dry, sandy soil. It gets quite tall-sometimes 8 feet or more-and can get as wide, so it needs a lot of room.

3. Deptford Pink Flower

Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) flowers are smaller than their cousins maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.) They also don’t have the same bold, jagged, deep maroon ring near their center. These plants will get quite tall and don’t seem to have the clumping habit of maiden pinks. Both plants are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation.

4. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun.

 5. Gray Dogwood Blossoms aka Cornus racemosa

Our native dogwoods are blooming now. This example is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), which is a large shrub that can get 12-15 feet tall and at least as wide. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams. They can be difficult to identify at times but gray dogwood flowers clusters tend to mound up in the center enough to appear triangular and other dogwoods have flower clusters that are much flatter. Both gray and red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) have white berries. Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) has berries that are blue and white.

6. Japanese Iris

Many years ago a friend gave me a piece of her Japanese iris. I don’t know its name but it’s a beautiful thing. And it also has very big flowers; they must be 2 or 3 times as big as a bearded iris blossom.

 7. Vervain Mallow Flower

I found some mallow (Malvaceae) plants growing in an abandoned lot near the river but I think they were escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

8. Indian Cucumber Root

I’m late posting this photo of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) flowers; they actually start blooming in mid-June through the first week of July. I wanted to show them because they are unusual and, because they usually nod under the leaves, many never see them. The flowers have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 stamens and 3 reddish purple to brown stigmata. These large stigmata are sometimes bright red but I didn’t see any like that this year. I kept searching for bright red ones to show here and that’s why the photo is late. The plant gets its common name from the way the root looks (and tastes) like a tiny cucumber.

9. Native Rhododendron Blossom

Our native rhododendrons (Rhododendron maxima) are blooming but the blooms are very sparse this year. I think it is probably because they out did themselves last year. They were loaded with flowers and plants often need a rest after a season like that.  New Hampshire is the northernmost range of these rhododendrons and people from all over the world come to see them growing in their natural setting in Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. I did a post about the park last year which you can read by clicking here.

Do you see the tiny crab spider with the pink body and white legs in the center of this photo? It’s remarkable how they change to the same color as the flowers that they live on. Scientists haven’t been able to figure out how they do it.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla Flower Head

I didn’t see any crab spiders on these bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) blossoms but I saw plenty of black ants. Bristly sarsaparilla isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the ants do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. Tall Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)

Tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is also called poke milkweed because its leaves resemble those of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). In spite of its common name the plants that I’ve seen have never been as tall as common milkweed. Its bi-colored, white and light green flowers are very droopy. Unless it is flowering it’s hard to tell it from swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata.) One unusual thing about it is how it seems to prefer growing in shade at the edge of forests. It is said to be the most shade tolerant of all milkweeds.

12. White Campion

I’m colorblind but even I could tell that these campion flowers weren’t white like those commonly seen in this area. They had just the slightest blush of pink, but I still think that they are white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion (Silene dioica) flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa.

13 Meadow Sweet

White meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) is another plant that likes moist ground and I usually find it near water. Its flowers have long stamens that always make them look kind of fuzzy. Some people confuse this plant, which is a shrub, with steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), which is also a shrub, but steeplebush has pink flowers and the undersides of its leaves are silvery-white, while the undersides of meadowsweet leaves are green.

14. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy and I don’t know if I’m simple or not but these flowers always bring me great joy when I see them. That’s probably because blue is my favorite color.

Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.  ~Franz Kafka

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