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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Cucumber’

I thought I’d start this post with a flower that I couldn’t show in my last flower post. This is the ornamental datura (Datura metel) finally fully opened and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a huge blossom; the end of the trumpet shaped bloom seen here is nearly as big as a tennis ball and the overall length must be close to 5 inches.

I’ve seen the first purple flowered aster of the year. I’m not sure which one it was but the flower size was too small to be a New England aster. It might be a purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum.) It grew in a very wet spot.

At a glance common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side as they are here, with the Joe Pye weed the pinkish purple flowers in the background. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Two years ago with a lot of help from readers this beautiful little thing was identified as low baby’s breath (Gypsophila muralis.)  The flowers are tiny; about the same size as those of red sandspurry, and blossom on the ends of wiry stems. Its leaves are also small and sword shaped and very hard to see in this photo. This entire plant shown would fit in a tea cup with room to spare. It is an annual plant native to Europe and available commercially, sold as cushion baby’s breath. I had never seen it before that but now I see it quite regularly. I’m guessing it re-seeds itself prolifically.

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, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over nearby plants. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) 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 if eaten. Another name for virgin’s bower is traveler’s joy which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

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.

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. I couldn’t find any on this vine so I’m showing this example from last year.

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.

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. I took a nice big sniff of these and the spicy sweet fragrance stayed with me almost all day. 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.

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, tiny spearmint flowers appear near 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. Just imagine; right now you are seeing the same flowers that people admired 2000 years ago.

I wasn’t sure if I’d see chicory (Cichorium intybus) in bloom this year but there were several plants blooming along the roadside in Stoddard. I love the beautiful blue color of these flowers and if I could have a yard full of them I would. I’ve read that chicory flowers can also rarely be white or pink, but I’ve never seen them wearing those colors. These plants aren’t real common here but you can find small colonies dotted here and there throughout the countryside. The large, inch and a half diameter flowers on 4 foot tall plants means they’re easy to see. The roasted and ground root of chicory makes a passable coffee substitute.

I found this hollyhock growing in a local garden. At least I think it’s a hollyhock. I’m sure that it’s in the mallow family but I’ve never seen it so I had to try to find it in books and online. I think it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis,) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves. According to the U.S. Forest Service it likes to grow along woodland streams, but I’ve never seen it in the wild. Mountain hollyhock is also known as “checker mallow.” Mallow means “soft” and describes the soft leaves. Native Americans chewed the stems like gum.

This pretty daylily that grows in the garden of friends has a strange story. My friends were pretty sure I gave it to them years ago but none of us could remember for sure, and since I didn’t have one like it in my yard I doubted it had come from me. But then part of an old oak tree fell a couple of years ago and like magic, I had this daylily blooming in my yard this year. The oak tree had shaded it out so badly years ago that it had lived for years but didn’t bloom. Now, I can enjoy it once again. Amazing what a little sunshine will bring about.

Here is a sampling of what our meadows look like now, with goldenrods and purple loosestrife predominating.  The loosestrife is highly invasive but it is very pretty when it blooms with goldenrods.

Here is a wider roadside view of just a small sampling of the flowers we have blooming now. For sheer numbers and variety August is the month of flowers.

You would never see one of our prettiest wildflowers blooming in that previous photo, because beautiful little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) are also one of the smallest. These little beauties get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. 

Forked blue curls are annual plants that grow from seed each year. They are very small and you have to get down on your hands and knees for a view like this but it’s worth it because they are beautiful. This native plant grows as far west as Texas.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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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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Asters have been blooming for a couple of weeks now but this is the first purple one I’ve seen, blooming just two days ago at the height of the eclipse. I think it’s a purple stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) because of its smallish one inch flowers, reddish purple stems and long narrow leaves that clasp the stem. Purple stemmed asters like moist places and this one was growing at the edge of a pond. Native Americans had a word for asters which meant It-Brings-the-Fall. They used the plant to relieve coughs and treat breathing difficulties.

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.

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.

Groundnut (Apias americana) flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown and always remind me of the helmets worn by Spanish conquistadors. Indeed Spanish explorers most likely would have seen the plant, because its potato like tuberous roots were 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.  Not surprisingly another name for it is Indian potato.

Ground nut 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. The roots became an important food source and they forbade Natives from digging the tubers on colonial lands. And we wonder why they were upset with the settlers.

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.

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.

When I see a rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) I always think of my time spent as a gardener in Florida. I worked in the gardens of a large hotel and the job included trimming what seemed like miles of tropical hibiscus hedges (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and rose of Sharon is a kind of hardy hibiscus in the same family as the tropical hibiscus. The hardy version shown here has large trumpet shape blossoms in early fall.

There are many different tall yellow flowers blooming now and most are Helianthus species. I think this one is a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus.) Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years for their tuberous roots, which they cooked and ate much like we do potatoes. They are said to be starchy with a nutty flavor and they were immediately adopted by the early settlers. The tubers have fewer calories than potatoes and the plant’s carbohydrates and sugars can be assimilated by the digestive tract without insulin. This makes them an excellent choice for diabetics.

I probably see one orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) plant for every thousand yellow hawkweed plants. Orange hawkweed is native to the alpine regions of Europe, so apparently it likes high places. Maybe that’s why I never see it. I’d like to see more of it; orange is a hard color to find among our wildflowers.

Panicled hawkweed (Hieracium paniculatum) has wiry stems that curve in all directions and end in a small, yellow, daisy-like flower. I found this plant growing in a splash of sunshine near a pond. These native plants are sometimes confused with rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum) but that plant has a very different growth habit.

Panicled hawkweed has smooth, hairless leaves and prefers dry forests. This is one of very few hairless hawkweeds. Another common name is Allegheny hawkweed. It is in the aster family and just the kind of flower that we would expect to see on a member of the hawkweed family.

Turtleheads (Chelone glabra linifolia) are blooming early in some places. 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. 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 don’t think this waspish visitor cared one way or another what the turtlehead flowers looked like. As I watched it crawled all the way into the blossom and then back out again several times. There will be turtlehead seeds this year.

Some of the most beautiful flower photos I’ve seen have been of huge fields of lavender, but those were on lavender plants while the lavender colored flowers in the above photo are on purple loosestrife. This is one of the most aggressive invasive plants I know of. This photo shows why the plant is so unpopular here; it grows in monocultures and chokes out all native plants. It originally came over from Europe in the ballast of a cargo ship in the 1800s. The beach sand ballast, loaded with purple loosestrife seeds, was 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. It likes wet, sunny meadows but will grow just about anywhere.

I can remember when the view in the previous photo looked much like this, but purple loosestrife took over the entire area. Now it’s the predominant flower in this photo as well.

It isn’t uncommon to see a carpet of knee high, white blooms in the woods at this time of year. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is known for its drought tolerance and will grow under a heavy leaf canopy. The stalked, coarsely toothed, heart shaped leaves help with identifying this plant.

The small, one 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.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata.) Vervain can get quite tall and has erect, terminal flower spikes. The blossoms start at the base of each spike and work their way up to the top, so when they’ve reached the top you know they’re done for the season. I always find vervain growing near water in full sun. The bitter roots of this plant were used medicinally by Native Americans.

Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. ~Henry Beston

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1. Crooked Stem Aster

This crooked stem aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) is one of the first blue asters I’ve seen this year. I found a small colony growing in a sunny spot in the woods, surrounded by many other white asters.  I don’t usually try to identify asters but the one inch diameter light blue flowers and zigzagging stems made this one easier than most. The Native American Iroquois tribe used this plant medicinally to treat fevers and other ailments.

2. Bigleaf Aster

Native large leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is another aster that is relatively easy to identify because of its big heart shaped leaves. The plant spreads by rhizomatous roots and can form very large colonies, especially on hillsides as these examples were. Its leaves are often as big as my hand and they can take a lot of shade. The plant seems to be blooming well this year in spite of drought so I’m assuming that they don’t mind dry soil. They don’t like being disturbed by human activity so I don’t see them close to roadsides often. These were separated from the road by a wide drainage ditch.

3. Bigleaf Aster

Most of the flowers that I find on large leaved asters are white but they can also be light blue or lavender. As in many asters the ray florets are irregularly spaced around the central disc florets. The tubular disc florets turn from yellow to orange-red as they age and then change to dark red before finally turning brown.

4. Mint

If the square stems and tufts of tiny pink / purple flowers in the leaf axils don’t ring a bell, then one sniff of a crushed leaf will tell you immediately that this plant is wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) Mint has been used by man since the dawn of time and Pliny, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Charlemagne each wrote of its virtues. Each time we see it we are seeing one of mankind’s earliest memories. I find it growing in the tall grass at the edge of the forest and I always have to smell it.

5. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

I never thought of speedwell as an aquatic plant until I met the narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata.) It is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense, because it grew in standing water in full sun at the edge of a field last year. This year there was no standing water but the soil was still saturated. 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.

6. Narrow Leaved Speedwell aka (Veronica scutellata)

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 are many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice.

7. Forked Blue Curls

Tiny eastern forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) has flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides. It’s a beautiful little thing that’s worth looking for, but getting a good photo of it is tricky. It took 8 tries to get this one.

8. Forked Blue Curls

Forked blue curl plants barely reach your ankle. The entire plant pictured could have easily fit inside a coffee mug.

9. Pilewort

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. Even after they open they still look like they are in the bud stage, so you have to look at them closely.  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.

10. Pilewort

This is all we see of a pilewort flower when it opens. It is made up of many disc florets which are pollinated primarily by wasps and hornets. Once they go to seed they will float away on the wind much like dandelion seeds. 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.

11. Pipewort

The drought we find ourselves in is presenting many problems but also a few opportunities. Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water but the water of this pond had receded enough so that I could walk right up to the plants shown without taking my shoes off. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged I’ve never been able to see the entire plant, but now I could.

12. Pipewort

I’m not sure what I expected to see but the leaves surprised me. With leaves the pipewort looked just like many other plants but its basal leaves normally grow underwater, which seems a little strange. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

13. Pipewort

Most pipeworts grow just offshore in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

14. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees and hangs on using tendrils like a grape. It likes to grow in sandy soil and prefers partial 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.

15. Wild Cucumber

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.

16. Wild Cucumber fruit

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber have a watermelon shape. Though the spines look menacing they are quite soft and children have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible. The example shown here hadn’t grown to full size yet.

17. Toadflax

Little native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) has been blooming since May and is one of our longest blooming wildflowers. This plant seems to like sunny, dry, sandy waste areas or roadsides because that’s where I always find it growing. It’s always worth getting down on my hands and knees to admire its tiny but beautiful blue / purple flowers. They sparkle like sugar candy in the sunlight.

18. Chicory

Last year the Town of Swanzey cut down all the plants and shrubs along a short stretch of the Ashuelot River and one of those plants was the chicory (Cichorium intybus) in the above photo. It gets mowed regularly now, so I was surprised to see a normal size flower on a plant no more than three inches tall. It looks a little stressed, whether from drought or being mowed I don’t know but it’s a beautiful flower, and stronger than I ever knew.

Beauty does not linger; it only visits. Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm; it calls us to feel, think and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the beautiful. ~ John O’Donohue

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1. Meadow Flowers

Goldenrod and purple loosestrife dominate this meadow view but we still have a lot of other flowers blooming.

2. Aster

I’m seeing more and more native asters each day, blooming to usher in fall. I think this one might be a crooked stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoide) but there are so many asters that look alike it’s hard to be sure. At about a half inch diameter the flowers are too small to be a New England Aster. I found it growing in a wet area at the edge of the forest.

3. Black Eyed Susans

Surely black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) must be one of the longest blooming flowers. They’ve been blooming since June and should go well into October. Native Americans cured earaches with the juice of its root, but early colonists gave it its common name after an old English poem by John Gay about a woman called Black Eyed Susan.

4. Nodding Smartweed

Nodding smartweed (Persicaria lapathifolia) 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. This is also called curly top smartweed; obviously because of the way the long flower spikes droop. It is originally from Europe.

5. Nodding Smartweed

Each nodding smartweed flower spike is made up of many pink to white, very small flowers. The flowers never 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.

6. Lady's Thumb

Lady’s thumb is another Persicaria; (Persicaria maculosa.) It looks a lot like its cousin nodding smartweed but instead of growing near water this one will be found growing at forest edges. It is originally from Europe and has spread to nearly every state since 1843.

7. Lady's Thumb Laef

Lady’s thumb 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.

8. Bee on Thistle

A bee on a spear thistle flower head (Cirsium vulgare) isn’t unusual but I never knew that the pollen from this plant was orange. According to the little pollen baskets on this bumblebee’s legs, it is.

9. Blue Vervain

It was getting dark when I took this photo of blue vervain on the banks of the Ashuelot River. It came out looking kind of moody but the vervain flowers still held their beautiful blue color and that’s what I was after. These plants are nearly done for the season now. I’ll miss seeing my favorite color flowers.

10. Orange Hawkweed

I see thousands of examples of yellow hawkweed for every one orange hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca) and I’m not sure why that is. The plant might be from Europe but it’s far from invasive. Maybe their scarcity is due to the color orange being virtually invisible to bees. They do reflect ultraviolet light though, so that means that some insects must find them.

11. Spear Mint aka Mentha spicata

The last time I did a flower post I had found some wild mint (Mentha arvensis.) This time I found some spearmint (Mentha spicata) growing at the edge of the woods. Like wild mint spearmint has been used since 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.

12. Spear Mint aka Mentha spicata

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. I wish I could send you their scent because it was refreshing on a hot summer day. I’m not sure what the hair or web on the flower was. I didn’t see it until I looked at the photo.

13. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) reaches ankle height here but I’ve heard that it can reach 2 feet. The tiny purple flowers would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the large numbers of them on each willow leaved plant. It has the odd habit of dropping all its flowers each afternoon and opening a new crop the next morning, so you have to catch it before noon if you want to see unblemished blooms. This plant is also called false foxglove and slender leaved foxglove but I see little resemblance to foxgloves, either in flowers or foliage.

14. Mallow

I don’t see too many mallow plants in or out of gardens so I was surprised recently to find this musk mallow (Malva moschata) growing on a roadside. Since it’s another plant that is originally from Europe it was proabably a garden escapee, but you could hardly call mallows invasive. I see them once in a blue moon. I thought this one was pink but my color finding software sees lavender.

15.Tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is another European native that most likely came over on the earliest British ships because it was an important medicinal plant that was considered to be “necessary for a garden” in sixteenth century Britain, according to a list of plants compiled by John H. Harvey called Garden Plants of Around 1525: The Fromond List. Though considered toxic it was used to treat parasitic worm infestations. The insect repellant qualities of tansy were well known and it was used to discourage flies and other pests indoors, and as a companion plant in the garden where it repelled cucumber beetles and other common garden insects. It is still used as an insect repellant today.

16. Wild Cucumber

Native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is a late summer blooming vine that climbs on shrubs and trees. 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.

17. Wild Cucumber Fruit

I like the spiny fruit of the wild cucumber, which had formed just days before I took this photo. I also like its spiraling tendrils that curl even when they have nothing to curl around.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

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1. Bumblebee on Goldenrod

Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee on this goldenrod (Solidago) was moving but very slowly and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe he was just napping. The thought of a bee sleeping in or on a flower seems very pleasing to me, for some reason.

2. New England Aster with Agapostemon splendens

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are late bloomers but even they aren’t seen much after mid-October. This one had what I think is a halictid bee on it. They are also called sweat bees. At first I thought it was a hoverfly, but the long antennas changed my mind. He flew off immediately after this shot was taken, so there was no time for study.

3. Panicled Aster

Aster identification can be difficult but I think this one was a panicled aster (Aster simplex.) I don’t see too many large white asters at this time of year.

4. False Dandelion

I’m not sure what is going on with dandelions in this area but I’ve seen very few this year. On the other hand, I’ve seen false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) almost everywhere I’ve been. If you look at just the flowers this plant might be confused with hawkweed, but its leaves are very different and look more like small dandelion leaves.

5. Lobelia

The small violet blossoms of Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) have just a hint of yellow on the inside and are quite cold hardy. We’ve had two or three light frosts and the example in the photo continues to bloom in my yard. The plant gets its common name from the way its seed pods are said to resemble the tobacco pouches carried by Native Americans. They did smoke it, but medicinally to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative.

 6. Lowbush Blueberry

I was surprised to see this lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) blooming so late in the year. Even its berries should have come and gone by now. Something had been munching on its leaves.

7. Nasturtium

I found this nasturtium in a friend’s garden. A little white hoary alyssum (Berteroa incana) leaned in to whisper encouraging words to the nasturtium while it was having its photo taken, and it stayed perfectly still the whole time.

8. Wild Cucumber Blossoms

Another surprise was this wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) still flowering and producing fruit. Apparently the male flowers aren’t as delicate as they look. One of the mysteries of nature for me is why this plant has so many male flowers when there is only a single female flower at the base of each flower stalk. Another mystery is why I keep forgetting to get a photo of that female flower.

9. Yellow Sorrel

Common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is often confused with clover but clover has oval leaflets rather than the heart shaped ones like those seen in this photo. Yellow wood sorrel’s three leaflets close up flat at night and in bright sunshine, and for that reason it is also called sleeping beauty or sleeping molly. The flowers also close at night. The stricta part of the scientific name means “upright” and refers to the way the plant’s seedpods bend upwards from their stalks.

10. Red Clover

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) likes cool weather and blooms right up until a hard freeze, even though there are few insects left to pollinate it. Red clover makes excellent hay and silage and increases the quality of grass pastures, and that is most likely the reason it was introduced by colonists in the late 1700s.

11. Witch Hazel

Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) starts blooming sometimes as early as mid-September, so seeing it isn’t a great surprise. What is surprising is how I’m finding it growing in so many different places.  It’s doing well this year and each plant is loaded with blossoms. The “hama” part of the plant’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant. During warm winters I’ve seen witch hazel bloom as late as mid-January.

12. Sweet Everlasting

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is living up to its name by still going strong.  Actually, the common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An odd name for this plant is rabbit tobacco, given to it by Native Americans because they noticed that rabbits liked to gather where these plants grew. Because of these gatherings they thought that rabbits must smoke the plant as a way to communicate with the Creator. It was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

13. Ox Eye Daisy

I never expected to see an ox-eye daisy blooming in October but that’s one of the great things about nature study; there is always another surprise right around the next bend. I’m always grateful to be able to see and smell flowers but even more so in October because it is then, when they really shouldn’t be blooming, that I remember what a great gift they are.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here
.
~ Zenkei Shibayama

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1. Phantom Crane Fly

The phantom crane fly (Bittacomorpha occidentalis) is a beautiful thing and gets its common name from the way it appears and disappears as it floats through light and shadows. They can float on breezes and air currents with minimal use of their wings because each lower leg is hollow, inflated, and sac like.

2. Blue Bottle Fly

I’ve always liked blue and yellow together and this blue bottle fly and yellow milkweed aphids were eye catching.

3. Leaf Hopper

I think this is some kind of leaf hopper. He was very triangular.

NOTE: Amelia at the A French Garden blog has identified this creature as a tree hopper called Stictocephala bisonia. It can cause a world of problems for grape growers, as Amelia can attest. If you’d like to read her blog post about it, just click here. Thanks Amelia!

4. Dog Lichen

Usually when you find dog lichens, in this case membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea,) they are growing with moss. That’s because lichens like plenty of moisture and mosses soak it up like a sponge and release it slowly back to the surrounding vegetation. You can tell that the one in the photo has had plenty of moisture by its color. They turn a light ashy gray when dry. I like its frosted edges.

5. Greater Whipwort Liverwort aka Bazzania trilobata

I never noticed this liverwort, called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata,) until last year but now I’m seeing it everywhere I go. It likes to grow in large colonies on damp stones usually near streams, and is very small and easily mistaken for a moss when you’ve never seen it. Each “leaf” is only about 1/8 inch wide and ends in 3 lobes or notches. That’s how it comes by the trilobata part of its scientific name. It’s another one of those beautiful things found in nature that often go unnoticed.

 6. Poke Berries

And speaking of beautiful things that go unnoticed; I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana.) They are actually the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses.

7. Bittersweet Nightshade Berries

Ripe bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) dangle like tiny Roma tomatoes, but eating them wouldn’t be good because they are very toxic. The plant can be especially dangerous around small children, who might be attracted to the bright red berries. Native to northern native to Africa, Europe and Asia, it has spread throughout much of the world thanks to migrating birds that are immune to its poisons.

8. Cabbage

I liked the netting on this savoy cabbage that I saw in a friend’s garden.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

A different kind of netting is found on wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata,) and once the seed pods dry the netting found inside them is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood, when we used to throw the soft spined fruits at each other.

10. Wild Grapes

Wild grapes are showing signs of ripening. The ones pictured also show a good example of bloom, the powdery, waxy white coating found on grapes and other soft fruits like plums and blueberries which protects them from moisture loss and decay.

11. Black Raspberry

Many other plants like the first year black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same waxy white bloom as a form of protection. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, and smoky eye boulder lichens the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

12. Silky Dogwood Berries

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) start out white and then turn blue. Somewhere in between they look like Chinese porcelain. In fact, I’ve wondered if the idea for their blue and white decorated porcelain didn’t originally come from these berries. Ideas always come from somewhere, and nature would be the most obvious source of inspiration.

13. Spinulose Woodfern Shadow

No plant can live without light and nature always provides enough, even if that means being spotlighted by a sunbeam for only an hour each day like this spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana.)

14. Long Leaf Pondweed

I first became attracted to long-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) earlier this summer when I paddled my kayak through a large colony of it. They are unlike many of our more common aquatics and I like the leaf shape and the way they float on the water. The floating leaves are only half the story though, because the plant also has quite a crop of submerged leave floating just under the surface. The submerged leaves have the longest leaf stem (petiole) of any pond weed. It can reach 5 or more inches in length.

15. Maple Leaf Viburnum 3

In my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year is the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Its leaves go through several color changes and In addition to the deep maroon seen in the photo they can become red, yellow, orange, deep pink, and often a combination of two or three colors at once. Finally, just before they fall, they turn a pastel pink so light it is almost white.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

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