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Posts Tagged ‘White Snakeroot’

Last Saturday I went into the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland to see if I could find some turtlehead blossoms. I know two or three places where they grow but when I checked the other locations I didn’t even see the plants, much less the blossoms. This man made canyon was blasted out of the bedrock in the mid-1800s by the railroad and it has become a hidden gem of nature, with plants growing here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The section shown above is the northern section; what I think of as the “sterile” part, where it’s too dark for all but a few mosses to grow. I had to boost the ISO on my camera as high as it would go just to get this shot, and it was a sunny, bright day.

When I enter the trail I turn south to follow the part of the trail seen here. It starts with huge retaining walls on both sides of the trail, and they answer the question of what the railroad did with all the stone they blasted out of the canyon. This is a good lesson for all the wall builders out there; you can see how the wall tilts back into the hillside, usually at about 10-15 degrees. This adds to the strength of the wall. Behind most retaining walls here in the northeast you’ll find sand, gravel or other porous material so water will drain away from the wall. In this climate the last thing you want behind your wall is wet soil, because when it freezes and expands in the winter it will tear your wall apart. These walls have stood for 150 years and I’m guessing they’ll still be here hundreds of years from now if people leave them alone.

Lush growth is what you find when you walk south on this trail. Every inch of the trail is filled with plants and it doesn’t end there, because the canyon walls are also covered with plants of all kinds.

One of the first thigs I found was a big, yellow spider. I think it was one of the orb weaver spiders (Argiope.)

Possibly a marbled orb weaver, but I haven’t been able to pin it down. It was weaving with plenty of silken threads as I watched. I know that  some of you get creeped out by spiders but if you can just try to put that aside for a moment and just appreciate their various forms and colors and the intricacies of their webs, and realize that they have a right to a place in this world as much or maybe even more than we have, maybe someday you will be able to get along. With me it isn’t spiders but rats, and I’m trying too.

I saw lots of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) along the trail and I noticed that the flowers with the deepest shade of blue were those that grew in the deepest shade. The ones that grew in the sunnier spots were much lighter in color. I’ll have to remember that when I look for them next year.

There are also lots of purple flowering raspberry plants (Rubus odoratus) here. Because they have large light gathering leaves they can grow in surprisingly shaded places, and even bloom as this one was doing.

The fruit of the purple flowering raspberry looks, not surprisingly, like a giant raspberry. They’re about the size of the tip of your thumb. I’ve heard that it is close to tasteless but some say if you put a berry on the very tip of your tongue it will be delicious, so I tried it. I can’t say it was tasteless but it seemed a bit sour, with a flavor that is hard to describe. It didn’t taste like a raspberry and I can’t say it was delicious, but that might have been because I was chewing peppermint gum, which I often do on hikes to give my breathing a boost. The gum is very sweet and that might account for the sourness of the berry. I’ll have to try again without the taste of peppermint fresh in my mouth.  

And I saw turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia); in fact I saw more blooming plants than I’ve ever seen anywhere else, so they obviously like it here. Turtlehead plants seem to have a problem with diseases and pests. Quite often I see the leaves and flower buds at the top of the plant curl and deform, and there are at least two different species of sawfly larvae that feed on the plant, but nothing seems to bother them much here.

The turtlehead plant gets the first part of its scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. I have a friend who said he immediately thought of a turtle when he saw these flowers but for some reason I never see a turtle when I look at them. I’ve always thought it was interesting how two or more people could look at the same thing and give very different descriptions of what they had seen.

In my last flower post I showed hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) blossoms. What I didn’t mention was how I had to search high and wide to find them in bloom, and here they were blooming more prolifically than I’ve ever seen. Great handfuls of the small flowers hung from the undersides of the vines.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors, as these were.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

Can you be happy and heartsick at the same time? If you’re a summer lover who has just found New England asters blooming the answer is yes, because though the flowers are beautiful they also mean that fall is very near. It’s a season that always seems to sneak up on me and I’m not sure that I’ve ever really been ready for it.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are our biggest and showiest native aster and the large, inch and a half diameter blossoms come in varying shades of purple. Some can be almost white and some are very dark. I like the dark ones but I don’t need to see them right away.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) also bloom here in great profusion. Though it is very wet here this plant is known for its drought tolerance, and it will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant. The small, half inch flowers of white wood asters can have red or yellow centers. This aster is very easy to grow and makes an excellent choice for a dry shaded woodland garden. It is best used in mass plantings and many nurseries sell native asters grown from seed. Where I work they’re used as under plantings for lilacs, but the choice was theirs and they moved under the lilacs completely on their own.

When I was a boy I loved to read about far off jungles and I dreamed of being a plant hunter. Off I’d go to places no one had ever heard of and I’d bring back plants so beautiful tears of joy would fall when people saw them, and mere words couldn’t describe them. One of the places I read about was fictional but it was still my kind of place, and this place reminds me of it; the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon. He described Shangri-La as an earthly paradise, and that’s what this place seems to me. It sends me away; out of myself into a waking dream, and the beauty and the dream draw me back here again and again.

This is a place where coltsfoot grows on stone, and it can do that because of the constant drip of groundwater. Every plant here has a never ending supply of rich minerals and water, and that’s what makes the place so lush.

The smaller plants growing around the coltsfoot in the previous photo are great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum,) and they grow here by the thousands. They are one of the plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and they’re one of the reasons I come here.

To get close to the liverworts you have to be willing to walk in the drainage ditches and I wear rubber boots to get through them, but there’s nothing I can do about the falling rocks. You can see them scattered around in this photo and apparently they fall quite regularly. I’ve only seen them fall a couple of times though so I cross my fingers and don’t dilly dally when I’m near the liverwort ledges; a couple of quick photos and I’m out of there.

And then I can come home and admire these beautiful things in a photo. The reptilian appearance is caused by the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surface. It is the only liverwort with this feature so it is very easy to identify. And, if you squeeze a small piece and smell it you’ll immediately smell one of the cleanest scents found in nature that I know of. In general liverworts are a sign of very clean water, so that says a lot about the quality of the groundwater in this place.

The great scented liverwort is like one of those plants I used to dream I’d bring back from far away places. It’s such a beautiful thing and it somehow manages to look both plant and animal at the same time. Scientists say that liverworts are like “a canary in a coal mine” because they are very vulnerable to environmental changes and will be one of the first organisms to show the effects of climate change. On this day most of them looked good and healthy. The lighter shade of green signifies new growth, and I saw lots of it.

I’ve walked this trail a hundred times I’d bet, and in all those times I’ve never seen white snakeroot growing here. It wasn’t flowering but that doesn’t matter, because I’d like you to see its leaves. Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) 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.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy, much like those of the boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) flowers shown here. But look closely at the leaf shape and then scroll up and look at the leaves of white snakeroot again and you’ll see that they’re very different. The reason I’m harping about this is because boneset is used medicinally, and if you mistake snakeroot for boneset you could find yourself in dire straits, even in Shangri-La.  

I wonder if everyone who comes through here marvels at the staying power of the old lineman’s shack. It has been slowly picked apart over the years by those wanting boards to bridge the drainage ditches and every time I come here I expect it to be down, but here it stands to this day, over a hundred years later. It’s a testament to the quality workmanship of the railroad workers who once populated this place.

I know paradise has many gates, just as hell does. One has to learn to distinguish between them, or one is lost. ~Henning Mankell

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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It’s time to say goodbye to chicory (Cichorium intybus) I think, though I have seen it blooming in late September before. I found these plants still blooming along a roadside. The flowers were small for chicory at about 3/4 of an inch across, but their beautiful shade of blue more than made up for their small size. Chicory is one of my summer favorites.

I found the first dark purple New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) of the season recently. I look for the darkest ones I can find each year and these were beautiful but New England asters are 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.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I see them still blooming here and there. This one looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about so I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Flat topped asters (Doellingeria umbellata) are very tall with large flower heads (panicles) and weak stems, so when all the flowers bloom the stems often bend and the flowers end up at ankle level. This is one of the earlier, more showy asters that spreads by underground rhizomes and usually grows in large colonies of plants. I see them on forest edges.

I liked this pond-side view with its patch of wildflowers blooming.

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 this river of loosestrife 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.

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) still blooms on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Its common name comes from the way the leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) 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.

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

It’s also time to say goodbye to the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea.) This one looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded and its dry petals felt like paper.

Pretty little blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) must be one of the longest blooming wildflowers we have here. It usually starts blooming in May and I’m still seeing it in quite large numbers here in September. You can’t ask more from a flower than that. I love the shade of blue that it wears.

There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. The last time I showed its flowers I forgot to show the foliage, so this photo corrects that oversight. If you know it as something other than woodland agrimony I’d love to hear about it.

Woodland agrimony is also called roadside agrimony, and that is just where this one grew.  Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt, but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I saw these beautiful chive blossoms in a friend’s garden. I think they must have been garlic chives (Allium tuberosum.)

Native hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata ) flowers are small and beautiful, but it’s a plant that comes with a lot of baggage. As the story goes author and forager Samuel Thayer calls them ground beans rather than hog peanut because he claims that the name “hog peanut” was a racial slur against Native Americans. He says that the Europeans came to a point where they refused to eat them because even though the small legumes saved many of their lives they insisted they were only fit for hogs (implying that Native Americans were hogs.) Personally I find this story hard to believe because anyone who has ever raised pigs knows that they root around in the soil looking for just the kinds of legumes that grow on these vines, and it isn’t hard to imagine colonials, who raised pigs, saying “look, the hogs have found some peanuts.” I call it hog peanut here not to slander anyone but because nine out of ten people will use a plant’s common name when they look for it in field guides, and field guides call the plant hog peanut. If Samuel Thayer can get them to change that, then I’ll be happy to call it a ground bean.

Like a true peanut, after pollination some of its flowers bury themselves in the soil and form a small, edible, bean like seeds that give the plant its common name. Mice collect these seeds and store them in large caches that Native Americans used to search for. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant also forms inch long, pea-like, above ground pods that contain three or four inedible seeds. Hog peanut is a strong, wiry vine that can cover large areas of forest floor and choke out other plants. It is also good a tripping up hikers.

I tried many times to get a photo looking into these tiny but pretty flowers, but this is the best I could do.

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 little lobelia called Indian tobacco 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 don’t know if this was tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) but it was a tall goldenrod that stood feet above the other plants in the surrounding meadow. Its height was amazing.

I tried and failed to get a shot of a single goldenrod flower for you, but it’s close. I think there are two here.

One of the things I like most about native pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is the way a child’s face will light up and break into a smile when they crush it and smell it. Usually when I tell them that it smells like pineapple they don’t believe it, so it’s a surprise. The conical flower heads are easiest to describe by saying they’re like daisies without petals, or ray florets. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads, and the leaves are also scented and have been used to make tea. The plant was used by Native Americans in a tonic to relieve gastrointestinal upset and fevers. The Flathead tribe used the dried, powdered plants to preserve meats and berries. It is said to make a nice pineapple flavored tea.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. Its flowers are sparse at this time of year but I find it blooming here and there. Humans have used this plant in various ways for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it has been found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. Yarrow was known as the soldier’s woundwort and herbe militaris for centuries, and was used to stop the flow of blood. It 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.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heavens? ~ A.J. Balfour

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1-blaxk-eyed-susans

From this point on there will be fewer and fewer flowers appearing but for now a nice drift of black eyed Susans peeked out from under a stand of Japanese knotweed. They add a bit of cheer in the fall and that’s why I always think of them as fall flowers, and it’s for that reason that I’m not always so happy to see them in June. It always seems to me like they’re rushing summer along when they bloom so early.

2-nodding-bur-marigold-plant

This nodding bur marigold plant (Bidens tripartita) grew along the river’s edge where there would normally have been water but this year because of our extended dryness it miscalculated by about a foot and a half. For a plant that likes wet feet it was obviously having a tough time of it, but it was still blooming.

3-nodding-bur-marigold

As they age the flowers of the nodding bur marigold nod towards the ground and that’s how the plant comes by its common name. The flowers look something like a miniature sunflower and are supposed to be good for honey production. I like their deeply pleated petals. The plants grow to about knee high, often in standing water at the edges of rivers and ponds.

4-bluestem-goldenrod

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) appears early on in summer but waits until September to bloom. Its stems grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, as if to show off the yellow blooms that grow in tufts all along the stem. This plant isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

5-blue-stemmed-goldenrod

The stems of blue stemmed goldenrod get their blue color from the same natural wax coating that is found on grapes, plums, blueberries and other plants. The coating is called a bloom and plants use it as a form of protection against moisture loss. It’s made up of tiny powdery, whitish crystals which reflect and scatter light in ways that can make the surface that they cover appear very blue. I couldn’t find a stem that was blue this year because the wax crystals can be washed off by rain or melted by the sun, and we’ve had some very hot weather this summer. All of the stems were green this time, so I used this photo from last year to show you what the stems would normally look like. .

6-ladys-thumb-leaf

Lady’s thumb (Polygonum Persicaria or Persicaria maculosa) gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since.

7-ladys-thumb

The tiny flowers are packed into a long raceme and can be white, red, pink, or a combination of all three. This plant is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered a noxious weed. It was first seen near the Great Lakes in 1843 is now found in nearly all of the lower 48 states. It likes to grow near water and is usually found along pond and stream banks.

8-jewelweed

I came upon a large stand of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) recently and it was so dry that every plant had wilted badly. There were just a few flowers left and this was one of them. The drought is ongoing and most of the state has now been declared a natural disaster area, mostly so farmers can receive financial aid.

9-cow-wheat

Narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) is having a banner year; I’ve never seen so many plants and they’re all blooming heavily, so I’m guessing that it likes dry weather. The plant is a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants, even though it can produce its own. 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.

10-cow-wheat

Cow wheat’s long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils), but on this example I saw only single blossoms. I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests in sandy soil.

11-snakeroot

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snakeroot’s (Ageratina altissima) 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 or ate the meat 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 what is believed to have been 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.

12-snakeroot

Individual white snakeroot flowers are small, bright white, and fuzzy. The plant seems to prefer moist, shaded locations and doesn’t mind disturbed ground. It can often be found quite deep in forests and blooms from August to September. If you should happen to have farm animals you should know it well.

13-orange-hawkweed

Though I have two examples of orange flowers in this post in the form of the jewelweed we saw earlier and this orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum,) orange is a hard color to find among wildflowers in this part of the world.  Other than orange daylilies, which really aren’t wildflowers, I can’t think of another orange wildflower.

14-sand-jointweed

Sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) is a curious little plant that gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. I know of only one place where it grows but each year there are many new plants there. It is an annual so each year’s plants have to produce plenty of seed. They grow to about knee high and this year there are plenty of tiny white blooms, so hopefully strong seed production will continue.

15-sand-jointweed

The flowers are tiny enough to always convince me that I have no hope of getting a good photo of them but each year I try again. One of these times I’ll get it right.

16-sand-jointweed

How small are they? About 1/8 of an inch across, or about the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny.

17-bottle-gentian

About 2 years ago I got excited when I found what I thought were bottle or closed gentians along a dirt road up in Nelson, but they turned out to be narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis.) They were still very beautiful and I wasn’t disappointed, but I recently found bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) growing along a trail in Keene that I’ve hiked probably a hundred times or more. My only answer for having never seen them is I must have always been there at the wrong time of year. In any event these examples had just started turning and were a beautiful cornflower blue. Their usual color when mature is a very beautiful deep violet purple. The flowers never open beyond what is seen here so it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry them open and get at the pollen.

Nature holds all the answers – go outside and ask some questions – open your heart and listen to the response! ~Anonymous

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1. Meadow Flowers

The beauty and abundance of high summer are upon us here in southwestern New Hampshire and the meadows once again look like they’ve been painted by Monet himself.

2. Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) has just started blooming and is a common late summer sight in the meadows. There are several species of this plant including hollow Joe-Pye-weed (E. fistulosum,) sweet Joe-Pye-weed (E. purpureum,) three-nerved Joe-Pye-weed (E. dubium,) and spotted Joe-Pye-weed (E. maculatum.) Hollow Joe-Pye weed is the most common species in this area.

Joe Pye is thought to have been a Native American healer who used this plant to treat early Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers suffering from typhoid fever, but the discussion over the origin of the name goes back and forth. For instance I just read that a Native word for the plant was “jopi,” which meant typhoid, and it is thought by some that jopi the plant name became Joe Pye the person name.

4. Monkey Flower

No matter how often I look at this flower I don’t see a smiling monkey face but whoever named the Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) did. This plant has a square stem and that’s how it comes by another common name: square stemmed monkey flower. It gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and isn’t all that common.

5. Monkey Flower

I’m still not seeing a monkey. All I see is a beautiful little flower that is whispering summer’s passing.

6. Thimbleweed

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, like these appear to be. There are usually plenty of yellowish stamens surrounding a center head full of pistils though. The seed head continues growing after the sepals have fallen off and it becomes thimble shaped, which is where the common name comes from. These flowers are close to the diameter of a quarter; about an inch.

7.Thimbleweed Seed Head

Thimbleweed’s thimble shaped seed head looks prickly but it isn’t. It will eventually turn into a mass of fluffy white seeds. There is another plant called thimble berry, but that is the purple flowering raspberry; a completely different plant.

8. Indian Tobacco

The last time I did a flower post I showed an example of pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) but here is another lobelia that blooms at the same time and is easy to confuse with it. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) There are several ways to tell the two plants apart but I just look for the inflated seedpods. This is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen.

9. Indian Tobacco Seed Pods

Indian tobacco 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. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

10. Helleborine Orchid

I recently found the largest clump of broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) that I’ve seen. This orchid is originally from Europe and Asia and was first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. It has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year. Its leaves are deeply pleated like those of false hellebore and I wonder if that is how it comes by its common name.

11. Helleborine Orchid

Scientists have discovered that the nectar of broad leaved helleborine contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone, and when insects (wasps) sip it they get so stoned they want to stay 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. After the insect has staggered around for a while it will clumsily fly off, most likely 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 giving it a good buzz.

12. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Foliage

I didn’t know what kind of trouble I was getting myself into when I started finding Goodyeara orchids. There are about 800 different species and telling them apart can be tricky because they cross pollinate and create natural hybrids. I think the example in the above photo is a checkered rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara tesselata) because of its small size, dull blue gray leaf surface, faint leaf markings, and the way its flowers appear randomly arranged on the stalk. These leaves look fragile but they’ll remain green throughout winter.

13. Chechered Rattlesnake Plantain Flower Spike

If nothing else these tiny orchid flowers are teaching me a thing or two about flower photography. After trying and failing three or four times to get a useable shot of the flower spike I took a tip from my orchid books and tried propping a piece of black artist’s foam core board behind it. Much to my surprise it worked fairly well. But that’s another thing to carry into the woods and I don’t have any empty hands left, so I won’t be making a habit of it. This flower spike was about 6 inches tall.

14. Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

The lip of a checkered rattlesnake plantain orchid flower is wider than that of other rattlesnake orchids and has a shorter tip that makes it look like the spout of a teapot according to orchid books, but they remind me more of short, fat turtlehead flowers (Chelone glabra.) Each flower is very hairy and small enough to hide behind a pea, and their petals and sepals spread outward. Checkered rattlesnake plantain is said to be a hybrid of giant rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara oblongifolia,) and dwarf rattlesnake plantain (Goodyeara repens.)

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of erroneous information online regarding these orchids so if you find one and would like to identify it I’d advise using a good, reliable orchid identification guide. I list two that I use in the “Books I use” section of this blog.

15. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Tiny little dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is still blooming. I tucked a quarter down into it to give some idea of just how small it is. I usually find this plant growing in the muddy soil at the edge of ponds but I just saw a few growing quite high and dry on the riverbank. Its flowers aren’t much bigger than a pencil eraser but there are usually a lot of them so it’s an easy plant to find.

16. Liatris

Liatris (Liatris spicata) is a plant native to our prairies and you don’t find it outside of gardens that often here in New Hampshire. Every now and then you can find a stray plant in a meadow but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as black eyed Susans and some other prairie plants. It is also called blazing star and is grown commercially as a cut flower. I think that the closer you get to the tiny flowers, the more beautiful they become. It’s a very useful plant for attracting butterflies to the garden.

17. Tall Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This native lettuce can reach 10 feet tall and has clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. 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. The milky white sap of this plant contains lactucarium and is still used in medicines today.

18. Blue Lettuce-2

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) doesn’t get quite as tall as tall lettuce in this area but it has the same size flowers, which are ice blue instead of greenish yellow. Sometimes they can be quite dark and other times almost white and grow in a cluster at the very top of the plant. Tall blue lettuce is easily confused with tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) when it isn’t blossoming, but tall blue lettuce has hairy leaves and tall lettuce doesn’t. Native Americans had medicinal uses for both of these plants.

19. Tall Rattlesnake Root

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is also called white lettuce but, though it blossoms at the same time as wild lettuces and often right beside them, it really isn’t a lettuce. It’s in the aster family and is unusual because of its bell shaped, lily like flowers; most asters have ray and disc florets like the dandelion. The Prenanthes part of the scientific name comes from the Greek words “prenes,” meaning drooping and “anthos,” meaning blossom. Alba means white, and white drooping blossoms are exactly what we see.  The plant was thought to be an antidote for rattlesnake bite to Native American Cherokee and Iroquois tribes and that’s how it comes by its common name.

There is so much beauty in the world, but you must allow yourself to see it. ~Tom Giaquinto

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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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We had a light frost here yesterday morning, so there probably won’t be too many more wildflower posts for this year. I’m going to miss them!

1. Field Milkwort

I found a few of these native field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) flowers in an old pasture, growing in very sandy soil. One way to identify this plant is by its taproot, which smells like wintergreen. Another way is by its leaves, which should be alternate as the photo shows, and not whorled. The sepals on this flower shade from purple at the top to white at the base in this case, but its flowers can also be white or green. The “poly” part of the scientific name means much in Greek and “gala” means milk. It was once thought that cows eating this plant would produce more milk, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

2. Beech Drop Plant

Beech drops (Epifagus virginiana) are parasitic plants that insert a root-like structure called a haustorium into a beech tree’s root, taking what they need from the tree to stay alive. Since they are parasitic they don’t need chlorophyll and aren’t green. Instead the leafless stems are pale, yellowish green and the flowers can be wine red to pink to yellowish in color, sometimes with brownish purple stripes. This plant is also called cancer root because of the false belief that it cured cancer. It is related to Indian pipes and pinesap plants. Native Americans made a bitter tea from it.

3. Beech Drop Flowers

A closer look at the small flowers of beech drops. The plant is self-fertilizing but is also visited by insects.

4. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is another parasitic plant, but it isn’t limited to one kind of host like the beech drops. It can live off many different kinds of plants. Dodder is an annual and grows from seed in the spring. It wraps itself around the stem of another plant and pushes growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. If you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem has burrowed into the goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil. This plant has no chlorophyll and its stems are bright orange. The round growths are seed pods.

 5. Flowering Raspberry

I was surprised to see this purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) in September-it usually starts blooming in June and might bloom into July in a good year. This shrub is in the rose family and might be mistaken for a rose if it wasn’t for its large, maple-like leaves. Its stems are hairy but not prickly like a rose. The native shrub will reach 3-6 feet tall and twice as wide under the right conditions.

6. Silverrod Flowers

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over. I usually find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods. As the flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

 7. Obedient Plant Flowers

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is native to central and southern U.S. but in my experience, will grow just about anywhere.  I planted some in my yard several years ago to try to attract hummingbirds and it has been trying to take over ever since. Each year I weed it out, thinking that I’ve finally gotten rid of it only to find it growing in a different spot the following year. Its small snapdragon like flowers can be white or pink and are quite beautiful.

8. Slender Gerardia

The small, hairy flowers of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia ) are small and grow close to the ground, so they are easily missed. This plant is also called slender foxglove because its tube shaped flowers are similar in appearance to those of foxglove. The narrow leaves and wiry stems remind me of toadflax. An odd fact about this plant is that it turns black when it is dried, so it is not a good plant to press for herbarium specimens. It grows in fields and gravelly waste areas-often next to forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum).

9. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia flowers last only for a single day, opening in the morning and closing at night. By midafternoon they begin to take on a wilted look, so photographing them is best done at mid-day. Bees pollinate these flowers, and I see plenty of them when I visit these plants.

10. Sand Jointweed

I find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in sand, just as its common name suggests. These plants grow to about a foot tall with thin, wiry stems and small white or pink flowers. The leaves are very small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the curious way the stems are jointed. I’m not sure why, but this is one of the hardest plants to photograph that I’ve ever met.

 11. Large Leaved Aster

Big leaved asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow quite deep in the woods, so they have large leaves with enough surface area to collect what dim light is available. There is no hard and fast rule, but plants with larger leaves can often take more shade. It seems odd to see aster flowers topping a plant with such large, 8 inch long by 6 inch wide leaves. These plants grow in large colonies and I’ve seen entire hillsides covered with them. The flowers can be white, pale violet, or purple. Some Native American tribes used the plant’s roots in soup and its young spring leaves as food or medicine.

12. White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum ) is very toxic and in the early 19th century killed thousands of people-especially settlers in places like Indiana and Kentucky. In just one Indiana County half the deaths were said to be caused by this plant. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it, and their milk becomes toxic. When humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness” and in a week or less would be dead from 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.

Can we conceive what humanity would be if it did not know the flowers? ~ Maurice Maeterlinck

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