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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Calla’

Our beautiful fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have just started to bloom and that always makes me want to show you our aquatics, so off I went to search our rivers, ponds, and ditches for all the plants that like wet feet.

Growing in the wet mud at the edge of a pond was a plant I’d never seen before; the lance leaved violet (Viola lanceolata.) It is also called the bog white violet or strap leaved violet, for obvious reasons. The plant needs a wet, sunny habitat, preferably one that floods and then dries out. It is listed as present in 8 out of the 10 counties in New Hampshire but though I’ve been on a lot of pond shores, I’ve never seen it. It is said to be rare in Vermont.

At first the flowers look like any other white violet but then you notice that it has no hairs on the side petals like other violets. The flowers nod on stems that can be as much as 6 inches long and both the bottom and side petals can have purple veining. This little plant only blooms for three weeks.

What makes the lanced leaved violet easy to identify is its leaves, which can be very long indeed. They are said to be 3-5 times longer than they are wide but I think this one exceeded that.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) isn’t at all common here but you can find them. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve found them just twice. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic so it should never be eaten. From what I’ve seen even animals won’t eat it. There are deer all over the swamp it grows in but not a leaf had been munched.

The flowers are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix. They will be followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank. The spot where I found these plant is wet most of the time but it does dry out occasionally.

I think this one is ribbon leaved pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus.) If so it has two types of leaves; submerged leaves which are ribbon like, thin and transparent, and surface leaves which are said to be broad and elliptical. Since I’d call these leaves more long and narrow than broad and elliptical the jury is still out, even though they do look like the photos I’ve seen. In any case it is a common plant that I find in the river more than in ponds.

You might make a friend or two when you walk along the shoreline.

Or you might get lost in the ever changing patterns made by tree pollen floating on the surface. It’s a good year for pollen. Just ask any allergy sufferer.

Unless you have a boat you don’t get this kind of photo of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) because they usually grow a few yards from shore, but since we’re so dry right now though I found this one right at the water’s edge. The seeds of this plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

Here’s a rare top view of the yellow pond lily blossom. These plants like to grow in protected coves where the water is relatively shallow and calm but you’ll get your feet wet getting to it.

Common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza) normally floats but when it’s ready for dormancy its bladders fill with water and it sinks, and I find it in the mud at the edge of a pond. Its flowers are much larger than those of floating bladderwort, maybe a half to an inch long, and though this shot isn’t very good they’re easier to get a photo of when they aren’t floating.

Common bladderwort can be distinguished from other bladderworts by the spur on the flower. The name bladderwort comes from the small inflated sacs on the plant’s roots that open to trap aquatic organisms. There are tiny hairs on the bladder’s trap door which are very sensitive. When an aquatic organism touches these hairs the door opens, the organism is sucked inside and the door closes, trapping it. This all happens in about 5 milliseconds and is one of the fastest plant movements ever recorded.

I’ve been very lucky finding plants I’ve never seen before this year and here is another. There is a swamp where I work and in early spring I saw hundreds of small round, scalloped edged leaves growing on a few of the hummocks there. I wasn’t sure what they were so I watched them for weeks and finally, tall stalks with purple buds shot up from the leaves. Of course I started looking in guide books for purple flowers but that wasn’t it; when they opened they were yellow with orange centers and that led me to roundleaf ragwort (Packera obovata.)

The leaves aren’t round but they do start out that way in spring.

Stem leaves are very different.

Nurseries are selling round leaved ragwort but you’ll need to keep its feet wet and its head in the sun, which is a tall order for most gardens. It is said to spread rapidly and I can attest to that because I walked by the spot where it grows many times and for years didn’t see it. It is also called roundleaf groundsel, running groundsel, and squaw weed. Though its leaves are said to be toxic they were used in a tea by Native Americans and early settlers to ease childbirth. It was also used to treat lung ailments.

Blue flag irises are native, but yellow flag irises are not. I saw a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank a few years ago and what was a few clumps has now become a small colony.  I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right along the shoreline in full view.

This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is still a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like in 50 years. The plant is useful in certain ways; it is used in sewage treatment and is known to be able to remove metals from wastewaters, so maybe we could use them for that. 

I like the fern like leaves of wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) which grows along streams. Wild chervil is thought to have come over from Europe in wildflower seed mixes. It has been growing in this area since the early 1900s and is considered a noxious weed in places. Wild chervil contains chemical compounds which have been shown to have anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. It isn’t the same plant as cultivated chervil used to flavor soups though, so it shouldn’t be eaten. In many places it is called cow parsley. On this day it was almost ready to bloom but it hadn’t yet.

Narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow but luckily this day the water had dried up due to lack of rain. It might seem odd that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but there is usually standing water here. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a not very good closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking and fortunately I know a pond or two that fits that description. There are many other aquatics that haven’t bloomed yet, so we’ll be visiting the water again.

Water is sufficient…the spirit moves over water. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for stopping in. Happy first day of summer!

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1. Logging Road

On Saturday I decided to visit a beaver pond that I’d heard might prove to be a worthwhile walk. I started off down this old logging road, which was well worn and rutted, in Hancock. It was early and cool on a day that was supposed to be hot later, with temperatures in the high 80s F. We’ve been having a few of those lately and there are more to come.

2. Stone Wall

The stone walls lining both sides of the road told me that this land once looked far different than what it does now. It was cleared and farmed at one time and folks lived out here in what now seems like the middle of nowhere. But I can see why they built here; the land is level in places and is relatively protected by hills, and there is a stream running through it.

3. Trail

Through a break in the wall you turn onto the trail that leads to the beaver pond.

4. Boulder

The trail is called boulder trail for good reason. There are some very big stones out here; car, truck and house size. Can you imagine wanting to clear the land and seeing this, when all you had was an axe and maybe a pair of oxen? They must have just cleared around it because here it still sits.

5. Swamp

Finally you reach the beaver pond. It’s peaceful here but far from quiet. Bullfrogs made their presence known with loud bellowing cries from every direction. They usually do this in the evening and at night, but will also croak during the day when the breeding season is at its peak. It must be at its peak now because there had to have been thousands calling; most of them male. At one point they started calling at one end of the pond and then more and more joined in, all perfectly synchronized, until you could feel as well as hear the wave of sound pass around the pond. I’ve never heard anything like it from bullfrogs. Spring peepers yes, but not bullfrogs.

6. Beaver Lodge

A beaver lodge was off shore a few yards, but I didn’t see any beavers.

7. Beaver Trail

I didn’t really need to see the beavers to know they were there though. Their trails through the floating aquatic plants told me that they were active, most likely at night. The grass growing beyond the trail isn’t a good sign for the beavers though. It means their pond is silting up, and there isn’t a thing that they can do about it except move on. Sometime in the future their unmaintained dam will collapse and the land will drain and dry out. Trees will take root, and once again this place will be a forest with a stream running through it. Beavers will then move back in, start to cut the trees and build another dam, and the ever repeating 30 year cycle will start again.

8. Beaver Tree

Their activity was very recent. There must have been 30 or more trees either felled or in the process of being cut. It’s a bit unnerving out here on a windy day I would imagine, because some of the standing trees had been cut to one tenth their original diameter.

9. Beaver Tree

There isn’t much left of its original self. One good wind gust and over it goes.

10. Blue Flags

But there wasn’t any wind and anyway, I was too busy looking at all the beautiful things around me to worry about falling trees.

11. Blue Flag-2

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful flower and I’m always happy to see it. It loves to grow on the shore of virtually any slow moving or still water and so is right at home here.

12. Great Blue Heron Chicks

The beaver pond attracted fish and bullfrogs and they in turn attracted great blue herons, which built their nests in the still standing dead trees. Sometimes the trees looked like high rise apartments with multiple nests. Each nest seemed to have at least two chicks in it.  I heard that one of the special things about this place is how the herons have become used to seeing people, and it’s true; they aren’t as skittish as they’ve been in other rookeries I’ve visited. All of these photos were shot in the morning, but I learned to wait until afternoon to come here, because in the morning the sunshine falls almost directly on the trail where you stand, which means right at your lens, and that can make for some challenging photography.

13. Great Blue Heron

My camera really doesn’t have the reach required to get good photos of herons in the middle of a beaver pond but this one sat in a tree nearer to me than most. Herons will teach you patience by standing statue-still for long periods of time but finally, this one had an itch.

14. Dragonfly

When I wasn’t watching statuesque herons I watched the multitudes of dragonflies flitting back and forth. I think this one is a female or newly emerged male blue dasher, but it’s hard for me to tell. As dragonflies will, this one kept leaving and returning to its perch and even fought with others for the right to use it.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

The fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) were just opening and were beautiful as always. While I was trying to find an unobstructed view of this flower a big black northern water snake caught a frog and dragged it under. There would be one less voice in the chorus on this night.

16. Northern Water Snake by Wikipedia

The Northern water snake was too fast for me to get a photo of but I thought you might want to see what they looked like, so I found this excellent shot by Matthew Hayes on Wikipedia.  It shows one of the big snakes basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2  feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a photo of.

17. Indian Cucumber

I’ve never seen so many trillium, lady’s slippers, blue bead lilies and Indian cucumber root plants in one place before. There were so many in places it was hard not to step on them. The above photo shows an immature Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana,) too young to bloom. I chose it for a photo because I wanted you to see how its leaves grow in a whorl around the stem. It will produce another tier of whorled leaves higher on the stem when it becomes old enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers.

18. Indian Cucumber Blossom

The flowers of Indian cucumber root usually nod under the leaves and have 6 yellowish-green recurved tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish-purple to brown, curved styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red-brown like those shown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish-black berry.

19. Black and Blue Damselfly

I think this is a common blue damselfly, but it’s uncommonly beautiful. It’s also my favorite shade of blue.

20. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

As I was sitting on a log waiting for the blue herons to do something interesting I noticed these plants that I’d never seen before growing at the water’s edge. I get excited when I see a plant I’ve never seen, so I had to have a closer look.

21. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

Wild calla (Calla palustris) was what they were and you could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so surprised. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve never seen this plant. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic and it is said that the Native American Meskwaki tribe of the great lakes region chopped the root and put it in the food of their enemies, causing them great pain and possibly death.

22. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris Close

Unfortunately I missed the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix where the green berries are now. These berries will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

23. Swamp

Some say that you can see heaven in water and I thought I saw it once or twice myself in this beautiful place. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in such places and time can seem to stop, and that’s one thing that makes them so special. I’m sorry that this grew to such a long post but there was much to see and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be returning; I’d love to see it in winter.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

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