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Posts Tagged ‘White Whorled Wood Aster’

It’s aster time here in New Hampshire and the will appear in all sizes and colors from now until a freeze. What I believe is crooked stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) has just started blooming. This native aster gets its common name from the way the stems zig zag between the leaves. The stems are smooth and the leaves clasp it. The flowers are about an inch across and are usually pale lavender but this one was in the shade when I took its photo and that made it appear darker. This plant was about three feet tall.

Whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata) gets its common name from the way its leaves appear to grow in whorls around the stem from above. In botany, a whorl is an arrangement of at least three sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point around the stem, and the leaves of this aster really don’t fit the definition. Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. It’s one of the easiest asters to identify because of its early bloom time and because the narrow white ray florets look like they were glued on by chubby fingered toddlers. The plant can take quite a lot of shade and I usually find it growing alongside the edges of woodland paths. I love the beauty of asters but I don’t like their message of summer’s passing, so when I stop and admire them I always feel a bit of wistfulness and wonderment that a season could pass so quickly.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. The plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall.

I often find purple stemmed beggar’s ticks (Bidens connata) growing in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers. This example was growing at the edge of a pond.

Purple stemmed beggar’s ticks have 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), and is also called water hemp because of the leaf shape. The name beggar’s tick comes from its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing like ticks. It is an annual that grows new from seed each year so there’s no telling where it might turn up.

I was surprised to find showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) still blooming. This plant is a legume in the bean family and it gets part of its common name from the little barbed hairs that cover the seed pods and make them stick to clothing like ticks. The “showy” part of its common name comes from the way that so many of its small pink flowers bloom at once. As the plant sets seeds its erect stems bend lower to the ground so the barbed seed pods can catch in the fur of passing animals.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce have just about finished for this year. They can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though. This one had hardly any blue at all until I looked closer.

If it was early June I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoids) in the above photo at the edge of a meadow, but it’s almost September. They must be having a good year. These flowers look like their cousins the Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria,) but that flower doesn’t have the jagged red ring around its center like this one does and it blooms later, usually in July. Maiden pinks are originally from Europe and have escaped cultivation but aren’t terribly invasive. They seem to prefer the edges of open lawns and meadows. Their colors can vary from almost white to deep magenta.

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees like it’s doing in this photo. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers shade over full sun. The flower spikes (Racemes) grow to 6 inches or more all along the main stem. These plants are annuals and grow from seed each year.

The greenish white, star shaped male flowers of wild cucumber have 6 petals that are twisted slightly. The female flowers are yellowish green and not at all showy. They grow at the base of the male flower stems. There is usually only one female flower for every 5 or 6 male flowers, which is why there are so few fruits seen on each vine.

Wild cucumber climbs by the use of tendrils and, as Mike Powell noted on his blog recently, they look like the coiled stretchy cords that we used to see on phones. (If you can remember that far back.) If you aren’t reading Mike’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find it over in the favorite links section on the right.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of wild cucumber have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. They look prickly but the spines are soft until the fruits dry out and drop their seeds. By then they’re so light and desiccated that they can’t be thrown at anybody. The fruit is not edible and doesn’t really resemble a cucumber.

Pretty groundnut (Apias americana) flowers are still blooming. They come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. The plant is a vine that will climb just about anything and I usually find it growing in the lower branches of trees and shrubs along the river. Native Americans used the roots of the plant in the same ways we use potatoes today, but groundnut “potatoes” contain about three times the protein. Natives taught the early colonials how to use the groundnut and the plant helped save the lives of the Pilgrims during their first few years as settlers. Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) doesn’t seem to be having a good year. I found a single plant with a single flower, and this is it. Or maybe I was just late; this flower head was showing yellow, which is something I haven’t seen. What look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green. I know of only one place where it grows and its beautiful flowers always make it worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and quite often that’s just what I do.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Slender gerardia is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Native common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is unusual because it grows in woods or meadows and I see it in both. It’s considered a weed by many and is largely ignored by most, but it’s a very interesting plant. Its raw leaves can be chewed as a thirst quencher if you forgot to bring water on your hike. The Native American Kiowa tribe called it “salt weed” and used it that way for long walks. Its seed capsules can also be chewed but they can also explode when mature and can fling seeds up to 13 feet away. They are said to be tart with a flavor similar to rhubarb. The plant is high in vitamin C and it can be pressed to make a passable vinegar substitute.

When you’re trying to identify plants there are enough hawkweeds to make you crazy. While many have thin, wiry, leafless stems this one has thick, stout, one and a half foot tall stems with tough leaves most of the way up it. For those reasons I think it might be Gronovi’s hawkweed, which is also called queendevil (Hieracium gronovii.) I’m guessing that ranchers and pasture owners gave it that name, even though it’s a native plant.

Hawkweeds are slippery and hard to pin down, but I can’t find a reference to another hawkweed with leaves like this one except maybe rough hawkweed (H. scabrum.) The leaves actually make it look like it’s in the lettuce family, but the flowers are what you’d expect on a hawkweed and not the tiny flowers found on the various lettuce species. I find this one along trails right at the edge of the forest.

Since I started with an aster I might as well end with one. I think this one might possibly be a smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.) It grew along the shore of a pond and stood about knee high.

There are other asters this could be but knowing its name isn’t that important to me. More often than not just being able to see such a pretty thing is enough for me these days.

He who does not become familiar with nature through love will never know her. ~Friedrich Von Schlegel

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I don’t get to do many flower posts in October but we’ve had such a warm September and October that it seems like anything might be possible this year. I recently stumbled into an area where quite a large colony of chickweed still bloomed. I think it was star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) but I’m never one hundred percent sure with chickweeds. I didn’t see them when I took the photo but this example was covered with tiny black insects. Pollen eaters, I’m guessing. That they’re still busy is as much of a surprise as seeing the flowers they’re on.

Cosmos is a garden annual that is grown new from seed each year. It self-seeds readily and usually the gardener finds a few cosmos volunteers the following spring, but I’ve never known it to escape gardens until now. I found this example growing at the edge of the forest. Cosmos can be large plants; I’ve seen them reach six feet tall, but this one wasn’t even knee high. It had a single white blossom that was also very small for a cosmos plant; probably only about an inch across. Cosmos were first introduced from Mexico somewhere near 1880. They were an instant hit and have been grown in summer gardens ever since.

Silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina) still blooms along roadsides and in waste places but the plants aren’t as robust as they were in June, so instead of fifty blossoms on a plant you might see two or three. This plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive in some areas, but I see it only occasionally here. Its leaves are deep green on top but bright silvery white underneath, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

Even in the rain the inner light shines from purple morning glory blossoms (Ipomoea purpurea.) This morning glory is an annual that grows new from seed each year unlike the bindweeds, which are perennial. I found this example on a fence at a local restaurant.

I’ve never paid attention before to what happens when a purple morning glory blossom is finished, but this is what they do. It’s an amazing color change. These plants were full of seed pods so I took a couple in the hopes that it might grow here at home. It might find it too shady here in the woods, but we’ll see.

Spiderwort blossoms (Tradescantia virginiana) usually close on rainy or cloudy days so I was surprised to find an open blossom just after a rain one day. Though the sprawling plants aren’t much to look at I love the blossoms, and have since I was a very young boy. They used to grow along the railroad tracks and since I just about lived on those tracks this plant goes deep into my earliest memories. I’m always happy to see them, even though I find it hard to recommend them for a garden.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) has been in this country for a very long time, having been brought over as a garden flower by a Welsh Quaker in the late 1600s. It was also used medicinally at least since the 1400s and modern science has shown the plant to have diuretic and fever reducing qualities. As if that weren’t enough it’s also used as a cut flower by florists because they are so long lasting when cut. I found these examples still blooming by a cornfield and I enjoyed seeing them.

Rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense) has formed pink ribbons along our dry, sandy roadsides as it does each year, but it’s starting to look a little ragged. This annual plant is said to be invasive but few plants want to grow where it does, so I don’t think it out competes any natives in this area.

Most goldenrods (Solidago) have given up the ghost for this year but I still see them blooming here and there. Any flower blossoming at this time of year will be covered with bees, just as this one was. All but one very determined one flew away though, as soon as I poked a camera at them.

New England asters are also turning in for their winter sleep. Once pollinated they have no need for flowers and are now putting all of their energy into seed production.

I know a place where thousands of wild thyme plants grow and here they were still blooming in October. I usually look for them in May but the bees don’t care when they bloom; they love at any time of year and they were all over these plants in large numbers.

If you feel the need to make yourself crazy, just try photographing a single thyme blossom. It’s among the smallest I’ve ever tried. I’m not going to tell you how many tries it took to get this photo because if I did you might think I really was crazy.

Nobody seems to know how shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) got from Mexico to New Hampshire but everyone agrees that it’s a weed; even in its native Mexico. The plant is also called common quick weed or Peruvian daisy and is common in gardens, where it can reduce crop yields by as much as half if left to its own devices. The tiny flowers are about 3/8 of an inch across and have 5 white ray florets widely spaced around tiny yellow center disc florets. This one was every bit as challenging to photograph as the thyme blossom was.

Yellow sorrel flowers (Oxalis stricta) seemed as huge as garden lily blossoms after dealing with thyme and quickweed flowers. I’m still seeing a lot of these little beauties and I expect that they’ll probably go right up until a frost. Speaking of frost, our first one usually appears during the third week of September on average, but we haven’t seen one yet. In October we get freezes, and that finishes the growing season. This year, who knows?

I saw a zinnia at the local college that looked like it had frosted petals. It was very pretty I thought, but the butterflies were paying it no mind. Every time I see a butterfly or bee reject one flower in favor of another I wish I could see what they see, just once.

Friends of mine still have string beans blossoming in their garden. In October. If that doesn’t show how warm it’s been here then nothing will.

I found a small tick trefoil growing in an area that had been mowed. The plant was quite stunted and looked more like clover than anything else, but the flowers gave it away. Note how they resemble the bean blossom in the previous photo. That’s because both plants are in the legume family, which contains peas, beans, and a long list of other plants and trees. Because of the leaf shape I think this one might be a panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) that had been stunted so its flowers couldn’t grow in a long panicle as they usually would. It was growing beside a pond in moist soil.

Finding a forsythia in bloom was a real surprise and showed just how confused by the weather some plants are. Normally this garden shrub would bloom in early spring but a cool August followed by a hot September is all it took to coax this one into bloom. There are others blooming in the area too. I have to wonder what they’ll do next spring. Forsythia was first discovered by a European growing in a Japanese garden in 1784 by the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg.

Yes those are blueberry blossoms, specifically lowbush blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium angustifolium,) but there isn’t really anything that odd about this native shrub re-blooming in October because they do occasionally re-bloom. The surprise comes from when I think of the super crop of blueberries we had this year; I wouldn’t think the plants would have strength left to re-bloom after being so berry laden. This plant had the smallest blueberries I’ve ever seen on it; they were no bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plants medicinally, spiritually, and as a food source.  They made a sort of pudding with dried berries and cornmeal which helped them survive the long winters.

All of the meadows full of flowers that I’ve been lucky enough to find and show here have passed now but I still find surprises, like this nice colony of whorled white wood asters. They really shouldn’t be blooming now but I was happy to see them. Most of their cousins have gone to brown and are finished for this year. I hate to see them go but it’s one of the things that makes spring seem so special.

When the goldenrod is yellow,
And leaves are turning brown –
Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown.
~Beverly Ashour

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