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Posts Tagged ‘Whorled Wood Aster’

We still have plenty of flowers blooming as this view of a local pond side shows, but from this point on we’ll have very few new ones coming along. There will be a few more asters and a goldenrod or gentian or two but for the most part what you see here is the season finale for wildflowers.

Garden flowers on the other hand, will steal the show until the foliage begins to show color. Many will bloom right up until a hard frost but chances are this sunflower that I saw in the garden of some friends won’t make it quite that long. Sunflowers are a very pretty flower and I wish I’d see more of them but not many people seem to grow them.

If I said “St. John’s wort” chances are good that most people would think of a yellow flower with a lot of stamens, but marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) is very pink. As its name implies this plant likes saturated soil and will even grow in standing water at the shoreline of ponds. The flowers are quite small; about 3/4 of an inch across on a good day, but usually more like 1/2 an inch. This little shin high plant grows south to Florida and crosses the Mississippi River only in Texas and Oklahoma.

The bright red flower buds of marsh St. John’s wort are as pretty as the flowers.

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is the first blue aster I’ve seen this year. I found this plant growing in a very wet, sunny meadow. I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems make this one easier than most.

In my last flower post I showed the purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which, if I was going by color and flower size alone would look identical to me, but my color finding software says that the flower on that one is purple and this one is blue. That and the zig zag stems lead me to the crooked stemmed aster. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

It’s already time to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends the eastern forked blue curls, which surprised me by following me home and growing in my own yard. I spend a lot of my free time searching for flowers and trying to remember where each one of them grows, so any that choose to grow here are very welcome indeed,  especially when they’re as beautiful as this one.

It’s also time to say goodbye to brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) Since the plant is so invasive in certain places I suppose I should be glad that it hasn’t followed me home, but I do like its flowers. They’re colorful and unusual and I enjoy seeing large colonies of them all blooming at once. They really don’t seem very invasive here.

Nodding smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) gets its common name from its drooping flower heads and the very sharp, peppery taste of the stems, which makes the tongue smart. It doesn’t seem to bother ducks, geese, and all of the other animals that eat it, though. The plant is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never seem to fully open, which can make it hard to count any of their reproductive parts, but each one has 5 sepals and no petals. There are also six stamens, two partially fused carpels and two styles.

Another name for nodding smartweed and some other Polygonum species is lady’s thumb, and they get that 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. There are over 200 species of Polygonum.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) is a strange plant with inch long flower buds that never seem to open beyond what you see in the above photo. This plant gets its common name from the belief that it was useful in the treatment of piles (hemorrhoids,) because the buds are the size and shape of suppositories. The Native American Algonquin people used the plant to treat poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) rashes. It has also been used as a source of a blue dye for cotton and wool.

Even after they open pilewort flowers still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely. This photo shows about all we can see of them. The flower is made up of many tiny florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. In some areas it is called burn weed because of the way it moves quickly into burned areas. I usually find it along river and stream banks.

Once they go to seed potential pileworts will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds.

I find spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing in the sunshine at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint (Mentha arvensis) spearmint has been used since before recorded time both medicinally and as a flavoring. Pliny wrote of it and the ancient Romans cultivated it to scent their bath water. Spearmint is originally from Europe but the Pilgrims brought it on their first trip to America, so valuable was the plant to them.

Instead of growing in the leaf axils as they do on wild mint, spearmint flowers appear at the top of the stem. They are said to be pink or white but these were white, blue, pink and lavender. Their scent is very refreshing on a hot summer day and always reminds me of spearmint gum. Imagine; you are seeing flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

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.

August is when many of our asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata.) It 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 leaf arrangement of this aster really doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at them from the side the tiers of whorled leaves would appear flat like the edge of a dinner plate but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down the stem’s length, and that means they aren’t in a whorl. Indian cucumbers have tiers of whorled leaves as do some loosestrifes. This plant is also called sharp leaved aster and grows to about a foot and a half tall. Something I didn’t know about the plant is how its leaves have a faint smell of spearmint when they’re crushed. Many thanks to blogging friend Kenneth Posner for that interesting bit of information.

Whorled wood aster is 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.

Many flowers have a visible inner light but few shine it out as brightly as this purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) that grows on the fence at the local post office. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. Postal workers must love it because I’ve seen the bed it grows in weeded down to bare ground, but the morning glories are always left to grow. Maybe the postal workers stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just as I do.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

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1. Summer Flowers

Due to the ongoing drought meteorologists say we need 8 inches of rain just to get back to normal. Some streams have gone dry but the one in the above photo had water in it. Though it was about a foot lower than it normally would be it supported a good stand of goldenrod and purple loosestrife. Many flowers like yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace are opening and then quickly browning from the dryness, but goldenrod and purple loosestrife are tough so their flowers dominate the landscape right now.

2. Grass Leaved Arrowhead

I seem to be having good luck at finding heretofore unseen plants without really trying this year. The latest one I stumbled onto is what I think is native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea.) It was growing in the outlet stream of a pond. I say “I think” because there are a lot more species of arrowheads out there than I ever knew, (about 30) and many of them are similar. Common to all of them is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. In this photo there are at least two species of arrowhead. The grass leaved example is over on the left, with flower stalks shorter than the leaves.

3. Grass Leaved Arrowhead

This flower looks a lot like the flower of common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia,) but the center stamens on the male flower shown here seem fatter, and more spatula shaped. Colonies of arrowheads in full bloom are very pretty against the blue water they grow in.

4. Grass Leaved Arrowhead

If you know arrowheads at all then this photo probably surprises you, because this leaf looks nothing like the usually seen common arrowhead leaf. The plant is also called slender arrowhead, and I’m assuming it’s due to the leaf shape.

5. Arrowhead

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) 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. The center stamens seem much narrower on common arrowhead than those of the grass leaved arrowhead.

6. Arrowhead Leaf

The shape of this leaf is much more what I think of when I think of an arrowhead plant. Each leaf has three lobes which are usually about equal in length; though the two lower (basal) lobes can sometimes be longer than the main terminal lobe. 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.

7. Clethra

Native clethra (Clethra alnifolia) is also called summer sweet because of its sweet, spicy fragrance. If you have low spots in your yard that get wet occasionally, this is a good shrub to plant in them because it likes moist soil and grows naturally along stream banks and in swampy ground. Bees love it too, and these plants are covered with them every time I visit them in bloom. If you’re trying to attract pollinators this shrub should be in your yard.

8. Clethra

Each long upright clethra flower head is packed with small white flowers. Small yes, but also very fragrant; it has the name summer sweet for a reason. Some older nurserymen might also know it as sweet pepperbush. Whoever gave it that name thought its fruits resembled pepper corns. Clethra was named wildflower of the year by the Virginia Wildflower Society in 2015. An odd fact about this native shrub is that it doesn’t seem to have any medicinal or culinary uses. I can’t find a single reference regarding its use by Native Americans but I feel certain that they must have used it in some way.

9. Hemp Nettle-6

A reader wrote in to ask if she could send me a photo of a plant she was having trouble identifying. This isn’t the shot she sent but brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is the plant. After I had identified it for her that I realized it had never appeared on the blog so I had to go out and find a few plants. These were about knee high.

10. Hemp Nettle

Brittle stem hemp nettle is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched. They have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower.

11. Hemp Nettle

The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully.

12. White Whorled Wood Aster

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. 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.

13. White Whorled Wood Aster

August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster. 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.

14. Rosebay Willowherb

Rosebay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium) doesn’t grow in New Hampshire according to the USDA Plants Database, but fireweed does, so I’d better call this one fireweed. The name willowherb comes from the way its leaves resemble those of the willow and the name fireweed comes from how it quickly colonizes burned areas of forest. No matter what you call it it’s a very beautiful flower and I wish we had more of them. Its dangling stamens and large white center pistil make it very easy to identify. This plant is a favorite of bee keepers and is an important nectar producer for the honey industry throughout Canada and Alaska. The honey is much sought after and commands premium prices. I know of only one small colony at the edge of a swamp in Nelson, so chances are we won’t be tasting any fireweed honey here in this part of the world.

15. Narrow Leaved Gentians

I don’t mind driving for 45 minutes to see narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis) because I can count the times I’ve seen gentians on one hand and still have fingers left uncounted. These examples live on the side of a dirt road up in Nelson and I went to see them and the rosebay willow herb last Saturday.

16. Narrow Leaved Gentian

Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I hope this small colony will spread. Luckily readers have told me that there are also other hidden colonies of it in Nelson as well.

17. Turtlehead

Turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) are blooming early in some places. I have a pink flowered one (Chelone obliqua speciosa) in my garden that a friend gave me many years ago but it won’t blossom until mid-September. The plant gets the first part of it scientific name from Chelone of Greek mythology. She was a nymph who insulted the gods and was turned into a turtle for her trouble. The gray spots of powdery mildew on this plant’s leaves are a testament to the high humidity we’ve had this summer.

18. Turtlehead

When a friend of mine saw a photo of a turtlehead flower he said that he thought “turtle head” immediately, even though he had never seen the plant and didn’t know its name, but I don’t see turtleheads when I look at them and I wonder why that is.

19. Turtlehead

Nope, no matter which direction I study it from I don’t see a turtle’s head, but if you do that means you agree with the person who named it.

20. Wild Thyme

Thyme grows in the lawns at a local cemetery and I always make sure I’m there when it blossoms, because it’s a beautiful sight. I didn’t want to get much closer to the plants than this photo shows though, because they were covered in bees. I was happy to see so many. This plant has been used by humans for a very long time; most likely before recorded history. The plant was used as early as 3000 BC by the Sumerians as an antiseptic, and it was one of the ingredients Egyptians used for embalming. Ancient Greeks burned it as incense in their temples because they believed that it gave them courage, and Romans used thyme to purify their rooms and to flavor to cheese and wine. The word Thyme comes from the Greek and means “to fumigate.”

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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1. Whorled Wood Aster

August is when our many asters begin to blossom here in New Hampshire and one of the first is the whorled wood aster. 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.

2. Whorled Wood Aster Foliage

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 the from the side the tiers of whorled leaves of would appear flat like a plate, but these leaves appear randomly scattered up and down its 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 tall.

3. Forked Blue Curls

One of the most beautiful late summer wildflowers that I know of is called eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum), but blue is my favorite color so my opinion is slightly biased. Each tiny flower has four long arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. It is an annual plant that grows new from seed each year. It likes dry sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and in waste areas. It grows to about ankle high and its flowers might reach a half an inch long on a good day.

4. Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth when eaten. It is also called old man’s beard and devils’ darning needles.

6. Thistle

Spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is also called bull thistle and is native to Europe. It is considered an invasive weed but it’s far less invasive than creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) because it spreads itself by seeds and not root fragments like that plant does. It is thought to have been introduced to eastern North America during colonial times and to western North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s now found in all of the lower 28 states and most of Canada. Spear thistle likes to grow on disturbed ground and I find it in vacant lots and at the edges of cornfields. Many different bees and butterflies love its nectar and several species of small seed eating birds like finches love its seeds.

7. Spotted Jewelweed

The flowers of spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) have 3 sepals and 5 petals but are far too complicated to explain here. That information is easily found online anyway but what often isn’t included in the jewelweed flower’s description is the cluster of stamens with white anthers that sits just under the ovary near the upper lip. When a long tongued inset crawls into the flower to get at the nectar deep in the nectar spur its back gets dusted with pollen from these anthers. Sometimes the pollen can also end up on a humming bird’s head; they love the nectar too.

An interesting fact about jewelweed flowers is their ability to change from male to female. According to an article in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, when nectar is taken from a flower pollen collecting hairs are stimulated and the duration of the male phase of the flower is shortened. From then on it enters its female phase and waits for a visitor to dust it with pollen from another male flower. It’s no wonder these plants can produce so many seeds!

8. Gray Goldenrod

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a gale force wind and were all blown over to one side of the stem.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

9. Northern Bugleweed

Northern bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) has opposite leaves that turn 90 degrees to the previous pair as they make their way up the square stem. The leaves are sessile, meaning they sit directly on the stem with no leaf stem (petiole,) or they can occasionally have a short petiole. Tufts of very small white flowers grow around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant likes wet places and, since there are many different species of Lycopus, it can be hard to identify.

10. Northern Bugleweed

The tiny flowers of northern bugleweed are about 1/8 inch long and tubular with 4 lobes, a light green calyx with 5 teeth, 2 purple tipped stamens, and a pistil. They are also very difficult to photograph because they’re so small. The plant is usually about knee high when I find it along the edges of ponds and streams. They often fall over and grow at an angle if there aren’t any other plants nearby to support them.

11. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

12. Dodder

In this photo that I took a couple of years ago 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 a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods.

13. Fireweed

If you search for rosebay willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium) on the USDA Plants Database you find that the plant doesn’t grow in New Hampshire, but if you search for fireweed you find that it does grow here. That’s odd because they’re the same plant, and I thought that this was a good illustration of why it’s so important to use a plant’s scientific name, especially when buying plants. Otherwise you never really know what you’ll be getting. The name willowherb comes from the way its leaves resemble those of the willow and the name fireweed comes from how it quickly colonizes burned areas of forest.

14. Fireweed

I know of only one place along a stream in Nelson New Hampshire where fireweed grows but it isn’t included in the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory list of rare plants, so I’m guessing that it isn’t rare statewide even though it is here. Henry David Thoreau mentions seeing great stands of it growing in burned areas in 1857. It’s a beautiful color and its dangling stamens and large white pistil make it very easy to identify. This plant is a favorite of bee keepers and is an important nectar producer for the honey industry throughout Canada and Alaska. The honey is much sought after and commands premium prices.

15. Ground Nut

The bright sunshine turned the usually brownish maroon color of the insides of these groundnut (Apias americana) flowers salmon pink. These unusual flowers always remind me of the helmets once worn by Spanish explorers and in fact Spanish explorers might have seen the plant, because it was a very important food source for Native Americans from New England to Florida. It has been found in archeological digs of Native settlements dating back 9,000 years.

16. Ground Nut

The groundnut plant grows as a twining vine and will climb just about anything. In this photo it is climbing a small oak tree. It grows from tuberous, potato like roots that can be as big as a tangerine but are usually smaller. Native Americans used them 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 roots became such an important food source for them that they went so far as to forbid Natives from digging them on colonial lands.  How’s that for a thank you?

17. Narrow Leaved Gentian

I can count the times I’ve seen gentians on one hand and still have fingers left uncounted. I’ll never forget finding these plants growing beside the same dirt road that I found the fireweed on up in Nelson last year. I jammed on my brakes and jumped out of my truck and fell to my knees beside them. If anyone had seen me they would have been sure that I had escaped from an asylum, but I didn’t care. That’s how rare these plants are. I drove for 45 minutes to see them again this year.

18. Narrow Leaved Gentian

At first I thought they were bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but further research told me that they were narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis.) These plants like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them here very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. I love its beautiful deep blue color and I’m very grateful to have seen it. Now if only I could find a fringed gentian or two.

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.~ Andre Gide

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1. High Blue Sign

I’ve been doing more kayaking than climbing so far this summer so, since it is already August and I haven’t been there since April, I thought I’d visit the High Blue trail in Walpole, New Hampshire.

2. Icicle Tooth Fungus aka Hericium coralloides

Just as you get on the trail there is a dead birch tree that fell and which someone has cut up into logs. This tree must have been shot through with the mycelium of the icicle tooth fungus (Hericium coralloides), because not only do they grow on what’s left of the tree but they also grow on every log that was cut from it. This example was about the size of a baseball.

3. Hobblebush Leaf

All along the trail hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) warned that fall was coming.

 4. High Blue Meadow 2-2

I was surprised to see that the meadow hadn’t been cut for hay. On this day it was full of butterflies that had eye spots on their wings, but not one of them would hold still long enough for a good photo.

 5. High Blue Trail

After the meadow the trail narrows and the canopy closes in, so I always keep an eye out for things that like to grow in dark places.

6. Slime Mold

Slime molds love dark places because sunshine can quickly dry them out. This one looks orange to me but my color finding software tells me that it’s dark yellow. I’ve never noticed this color before in a slime mold but research tells me that Leocarpus fragilis starts its life bright yellow, then turns orange yellow, and then brown before releasing dark, purple brown spores. And all of it can happen literally overnight.

7. High Blue Pond

You wouldn’t expect to find a pond on a mountain top but there is one up here. It’s not very big but I’m sure it’s big enough for all of the wildlife in the area to drink from.

8. High Blue Sign

The sign lets you know that you have arrived in case you missed the view. The photo of it is just for the record.

9. High Blue View with Phone

The view was as blue as always-or at least it was in this photo that I took with my phone camera.

10. High Blue View with Polarizer

It always seems quite hazy up here so I put a polarizing filter on my camera to see if it would make a difference. The only real difference is the yellowish cast seen in this and a couple of other photos in this post. I don’t like it, but it was hard to tell that it was happening at the time. The direction that the light is coming from makes a big difference when using a polarizing filter so maybe that’s what caused it.

11. High Blue View with Polarizer

The polarizer did nothing to cut through the haze. In fact, you can see less detail on Stratton Mountain in Vermont than you can when the view isn’t filtered.

I sat here for a while enjoying the view and heard a strange bird calling. It was in the woods above and behind me and, though I couldn’t see it I could hear its low and guttural call that sounded like awk or ork made three times in a row, then a pause, and then three times again. I’ve never heard it and though I’ve listened to recordings of every forest bird call I can think of, I couldn’t match it. It sounds closest to the “advertising call” of a green heron. You can hear that call on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website by clicking here. My questions are, if it was a green heron what was he doing in a tree on a mountaintop, and what was he advertising?

This same thing happened to me last year at about this time with a different bird call that I’ve never been able to identify, but that bird was flying in circles, catching thermals. The closest I could come to matching that sound was the black necked crane which lives only in China and Tibet, so I think I’ll just stick with plants.

12. Whorled Wood Aster

Whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) bloomed along the trail. This shade lover is also known as the sharp-leaved aster and mountain aster. These foot tall plants often grow in large colonies and their blooms are a familiar sight along trails in late summer.

13. Whorled Wood Aster Flower

The flowers of the whorled wood aster always look a bit wonky, as if a chubby fingered first grader had tried to glue the petals on and didn’t get their spacing quite right. Another thing I’ve noticed about this plant is how it’s often difficult to tell if a flower is just coming into bloom or if it is finishing its bloom period.

14. Fan Club Moss

All of the fan club mosses (Diphasiastrum digitatum or Lycopodium digitatum) that I saw on this hike had yellow tipped branches. Yellowing in plants can mean any one of several things, from too much water to too little, nutrient deficiency, lack of chlorophyll, insect damage, etc.  Since they’ve been around for about 300 million years and make up much of the coal that we burn today, I’d say that I probably don’t have to worry about them. They know far better than I do what is right for them.

15. Woodland Agrimony

One thing I love about exploring nature is how there is a surprise around every corner. On this hike the surprise came in the form of these woodland agrimony flowers (Agrimonia striata,) which I’ve never seen before. The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes). Research shows that the plant is threatened in New York and Maryland and I wonder if it is rare here. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before.  The Anglo-Saxons thought that agrimony healed wounds, snake bites, and warts.

The ground we walk on, the plants and creatures, the clouds above constantly dissolving into new formations – each gift of nature possessing its own radiant energy, bound together by cosmic harmony. ~Ruth Bernhard

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Here’s a small sample of what is blooming here now.

1. Bifid Hemp Nettle

Bifid hemp nettle (Galeopsis bifida) has a small but beautiful flower that always reminds me of heal all (Prunella vulgaris). This entire plant, including the flowers, is covered with hairs and the sepals end in points that can be sharp. These sharp points catch on animal fur or clothing and spread the seeds far and wide. Hemp nettle looks a lot like a tall mint plant because it is in the mint family.

 2. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots (Myosotis) are still blooming on the river banks.  It’s a beautiful little weed that gets its scientific name Myosotis from the way the leaves resemble mouse ears.

 3. Enchanter's Nightshade

Though it looks like the flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) have four petals there are really only two. There are also two sepals and two stamens, with a single style. The ovaries that form at the base of the flowers have tiny barbed hairs, and that means they stick to just about anything. This plant gets its scientific name Circaea from Circa, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. It’s a good story but unfortunately the plant is a native of North America, so Homer most likely never saw it.

4. Liatrus Blossoms

I’ve always know native liatris, often called blazing star, as a garden plant even though it is a native wildflower common to our prairies. I found this one growing on the side of a road and it’s the first one I’ve ever seen growing naturally. There are 37 different species of liatris, and I’m not sure which one this is.

5. Slender Fragrant Goldenrod aka Euthamia tenuifolia

Our native slender fragrant goldenrod (Euthamia tenuifolia) is my favorite goldenrod because of its scent. This plant can be confused with lance leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), but it has a single vein in the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has 3 to 5 veins. It’s that time of year when goldenrod takes the blame for causing hay fever, when in fact ragweed is the culprit. Goldenrod pollen is much too sticky and heavy to ever become airborne, so it is impossible for it to get in noses that way.

6. Spotted jewel Weed aka Impatiens capensis

I keep hoping to find yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) but all I find is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). It isn’t that I don’t like the spotted variety; it’s just that it is one of the first plants I learned to identify so I’ve had a long time to get to know it. The yellow variety I’ve seen maybe 3 times. This native plant is also called orange balsam and touch me not. Hummingbirds love these flowers.

7. Spotted jewel Weed

It’s easier to see why it’s called spotted jewel weed from the side. These spots are what attract pollinators. The curved nectar spur at the back of the flower can also be seen. It can only be reached by pollinators with long tongues, like butterflies and hummingbirds.

 8. Raindrops on Jewelweed

Jewel weed leaves have a waxy coating that makes rain bead up into drops. When these drops sparkle in the sun they look like jewels, and that’s where the name jewel weed comes from.

9. Pink Steeple Bush

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is easy to recognize because of the way its erect stems are unbranched, with steeple shaped flower clusters at their ends. They are usually found near water.  This native plant is available commercially and is an excellent choice for butterfly gardens. Native Americans used a tea made from steeplebush leaves for easing childbirth.

 10. Dwarf Dandelion aka Krigia virginica

 In my opinion it is the leaves more than the flowers that make native dwarf dandelions (Krigia virginica) resemble regular dandelions. Spring leaves look quite different, but as the season progresses they look like hairy, miniature version of the dandelion leaves that we’re all familiar with. It also has seed heads that are similar to common dandelion but they’re much smaller and more brown than gray. This native likes full sun and dry, sandy soil.

11. Whorled Wood Aster aka Oclemena acuminata 2

Native whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminate) is also called sharp leaved aster because of the way the leaves come to a sharp point. The common name whorled aster comes by way of the leaves appearing to grow in a whorl but it isn’t a true whorl. This is one of those plants that like to grow at the edge of woodland. Pearly crescent butterflies love this plant, so it is a good addition to a butterfly garden.

12. Tall Blue Lettuce

The flowers of tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) are usually very pale blue so I was surprised by the deep color of these. The flowers grow in a cluster at the top of a plant that can reach 10 feet tall under the right conditions. This plant is easily confused with wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) when it isn’t blossoming but its leaves are hairy while wild lettuce leaves are not. I’m not sure what the red eyed insect trying to hide behind the upper flower is.

13. Lettuce

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This is another native lettuce that can reach 10 feet tall with 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 leaves on the same plant looking different from each other.  Native Americans used this plant medicinally. The milky white sap contains lactucarium and is still used in medicines today.

14. Tall Rattlesnake Root aka Prenanthes trifoliata

The flowers of tall rattlesnake root (Prenanthes trifoliate) which are shown in the photo resemble those of tall white lettuce (Prenanthes altissima) but the leaves of the rattlesnake root are deeply divided into 3 parts while the lettuce leaves aren’t. It also has a waxy, reddish stem which helps in identification. Its flowers can be white or pinkish. This plant is also called gall of the earth because of how bitter the root tastes. These roots were once made into a very bitter tonic that was used to (allegedly) cure snake bites and that’s where its other common name comes from.

Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet. ~Jeremy Bentham

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It is still very dry here and some small ponds and streams have dried up completely just over the past week. There are shady woods and moist places near the larger ponds and rivers where plants still bloom though. Here are some tough plants that are more used to adverse conditions. Our native rhododendron (Rhododendron Maximum) blooms much later than cultivated varieties-usually about mid-July. A 16 acre grove in Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire is the northern limit of these plants. The grove is the largest in northern New England and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1982. There are also wildflower trails through the park, but there is little to be seen in the deep woods at this time of year.Whorled Wood Asters (Oclemena acuminate) have also just started blooming. The aster family is very large and many asters can be hard to identify but the strange, fly away petals on this one make it a little easier than most. Other common names for this native plant include Mountain Aster and Sharp-leaved Aster. The name “whorled aster” comes from the leaves appearing to grow in a whorl even though it isn’t a true whorl. Another common name for all asters is “goodbye summer.”  I found them growing at the edge of the woods.Another plant that says goodbye summer is goldenrod. The plant pictured is gray stemmed goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis.) Goldenrod is a family with 125 or more species that are often hard for even botanists to identify, but this one is easy because of the way the flower grows mostly on one side of the stem, like they’ve been in a strong wind. The grayish stem usually arches slightly as well and the plant has small leaflets in the leaf axils. Goldenrod is usually blamed for people’s hay fever but goldenrod pollen is so heavy and sticky that you couldn’t get it to go up your nose if you buried your head in a stand of it and sniffed as hard as you could. The real cause of allergic reactions is ragweed, which blooms at the same time and has fine, dust like pollen grains that are carried on the wind. This is my favorite goldenrod because it is very fragrant. I found this slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) growing in a crack in a sidewalk. This plant is similar to lance leaved goldenrod, but the two can be told apart by leaf veining; slender fragrant goldenrod has only one vein running down the center of each leaf and lance leaved goldenrod has several veins. Other common names are Sweet goldenrod, wound weed, Blue Mountain tea, sweet-scented goldenrod, anise-scented goldenrod, and true goldenrod. Goldenrods like dry, sunny places and don’t mind sandy soil. This native grows much shorter than most-usually about knee high.Native smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) flowers look much like those on stag horn sumac, but that’s really the only thing about this plant that looks like it. The leaves are very shiny and leathery feeling on smooth sumac and are a kind of dull, matte finish and thin on stag horn sumac. The main difference though, is the lack of “velvet” on smooth sumac stems and leaves. Stag horn sumac stems and leaves are covered in fine hairs, but you won’t find any on this plant. Smooth sumac stems are also apt to be crooked and somewhat shorter. This butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) plant was growing happily beside a sidewalk. This is a beautiful plant that is in the toadflax family with flowers much larger and showier than blue toadflax. It was introduced from the Mediterranean region of Europe and quickly escaped and began colonizing its new home. I can think of worse plants to have as weeds-at least this one is showy with its snap dragon like blooms. This plant is also called Yellow Toadflax. Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a familiar sight around these parts, but we usually expect to see it later in the year. Like many of the plants in this post, it is blooming nearly a full month early. This one is easy to identify because of the strange way all the flowers line up on one side of the stem and all point in almost the same direction. The bracts at the base of the flower that fold back away from it are also good identifiers. This plant is another European native that has escaped garden borders and become an invasive pest. But it’s a pretty one. It looks like it’s going to be a good berry year for American Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because I like to eat them. My grandmother always called this plant checkerberry but I have always called it teaberry because the berries taste just like teaberry gum. A handful of berries from these native plants are quite refreshing on a hot autumn hike. Many birds, small animals and even not so small animals like black bears like the minty, bright red berries so you have to be quick. Wild Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) has sent up its tall spikes and is just starting to blossom. Every time I see this plant I wonder why it needs a 7 or 8 foot tall flower stalk to support tiny flowers that aren’t as big as a dime. This plant grows in every state except Arizona and Nevada, so it might look familiar. Anyone who has had their garden lettuce bolt and go to seed knows how bitter it can be afterwards. Wild lettuce has the same bitterness virtually all the time, so even though it is edible not many will eat it. Native Americans used the white sap to cure warts. Some native lettuce species have blue flowers, and I’m hoping to find them.Tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) is a native plant that I don’t see very often. I found a few plants growing at the edge of a forest under some pine trees where they couldn’t have gotten very much sun or rain. I have read that tall milkweed grows as tall as swamp and common milkweeds, but these plants were so short that at first I wasn’t sure that they were tall milkweed. The drooping, bicolored flowers finally convinced me that I had the correct plant. This is also called poke milkweed. Unless it is flowering it could be easily confused with swamp milkweed. I found this spotted knapweed growing along the very edge of a busy road. There were so many cars going by that the plant acted like it was caught in a strong wind storm, swaying this way and that constantly. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and I was able to snap a few pictures. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t wondering when I’d be run over I would have taken a closer shot of the bracts under the flower head.  A while ago I posted a picture of a brown knapweed which looks nearly identical to the spotted. The best way to tell them apart is by the color of the tips of the bracts, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of them. Spotted knapweed has very obvious vertical veins under the black triangular spots on the tips of the bracts. This plant is considered a noxious weed and some people find it toxic, breaking out in a rash if they touch it. Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a plant that seems to go to seed overnight so I felt lucky to catch this one still blooming. It is also another fall plant that is blooming a month or so early. I found it draped over some viburnums at the edge of the forest. Virgin’s bower is also called Devil’s darning needles and Old Man’s Beard because of the feathery, twisted seed heads that appear after the female blossoms. If you can stand seeing another goldenrod I’d like to show you this rough stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) because it is one of the few species of goldenrod that is easily identified. What makes it so easy is its branching habit that gives the flower head the look of an elm tree. An elm has a straight, tall trunk that suddenly branches out in all directions to form a vase shaped crown, and that is exactly what this goldenrod does. It is one of the few that I recognize because of its shape.Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis) gets her common name from the way the strangely curved petals bounce in a breeze. This plant has 5 petals and 10 stamens. Those two things along with the backward bending petals make this one easy to identify. The flowers will be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They open toward evening, which is a habit directly opposite of plants like blue eyed grass and evening primrose. Another common name for this plant is soapwort, and that is because its leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather will appear. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. Bouncing bet hails from Europe and is considered toxic. Some people have violent toxic reactions to it. The flowers of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) are quite small but easily identified by the two stamens that protrude from the flower, the two pink, curved sepals behind the 2 petals, and the round calyx that is covered in fine white hairs. If you don’t notice this plant in the moist, shady woods where it grows, you might notice it when you get home because the small round seed pods will readily stick to your clothes. Enchanter’s nightshade isn’t a nightshade at all, but is related to evening primroses.

In Homer’s Odyssey Circe the enchantress drugged Odysseus’ crew and turned them into swine. Circe, “the dread goddess who walks with mortals,” who was the daughter of the sun and granddaughter of the oceans, gives enchanter’s nightshade its scientific name Circaea, and some say the plant was included in the potion she gave to Odysseus’ crew.

Nature will bear the closest inspection.  She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.  ~Henry David Thoreau

As always, I appreciate you stopping in.

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