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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Sarsaparilla’

I saw this view along one of our roads recently. Lupines and Ox eye daisies seemed to go on forever. There were a few white lupines but most were blue / purple. It’s a hint of what will come; soon our meadows will explode with color.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

When I was growing up we had a hedge of rugosa roses and I’ll never forget their wonderful scent. This rose reminded me of them because it too had that same scent. I think it was in the rugosa rose family but it wasn’t the exact one we had. The Latin word “rugosa” means “wrinkled,” as in the wrinkled petals  this one had.  They are a shrub rose that come along just after lilacs so if you’re looking for an extended period of fragrance in the garden I can’t think of anything better to extend it with. Rosa rugosa has been cultivated in Japan and China for about a thousand years but it has only been in this country since 1845. After its introduction it immediately escaped cultivation and can now be found just about anywhere on the coast of New England.

Pliny the Elder said chewing the root of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) would relieve a toothache, but modern science has found that every part of it contains a range of isoquinoline alkaloids that makes it toxic if used in large amounts. When used in the correct dosage the plant’s yellow sap can be used against warts and moles.  If used at all, all of the latex sap should be washed from the hands because it can cause irritation if rubbed into the eyes. Greater celandine is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S.

All the books will tell you that the flowers of greater celandine have four yellow petals but nature doesn’t know the words always and never, so you have to use a little common sense when identifying plants. Things like leaf shape, where it grows, flower size and color, and the yellow sap all have to be considered when identifying this one.

I love the beautiful colors and shapes found in the perennial bachelor’s button blossom(Centaurea). They make excellent low maintenance, almost indestructible additions to the perennial garden. I found this one growing in a friend’s garden.

Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head (Hieracium caespitosum) is actually a single, complete flower and each forms its own seed. The buds, stem, and leaves of the plant are all very hairy and the rosette of oval, overlapping leaves at the base of the stem often turn deep purple in winter. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk. It is an introduced invasive and names like “yellow devil” and “devil’s paintbrush” show what ranchers think of it.

This beautiful clematis was spotted in the garden of friends of mine. Its blossoms are large, probably 6 inches across. I think its name is “Nelly Moser.” Though we do have native clematis most clematis cultivars have a Chinese or Japanese lineage. According to Wikipedia the wild clematis species native to China made their way into Japanese gardens by the 17th century, and in the 18th century Japanese garden selections were the first exotic clematises to reach European gardens. From there came our first “exotic” clematis, an old favorite called Jackmanii, which is still grown today.

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) might look like another exotic import from China or Japan but they’re native to the east coast of the U.S. It’s a beautiful and fragrant tree that you rarely see anywhere, and I wonder why it’s so under used. It is said to be tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than Bradford pears. So why don’t more of us use it?

When seen alone the fringe tree’s blossoms don’t seem like much to get excited about but when they get together in lacy, drooping clusters at the ends of the branches they are quite beautiful. Fringe trees are one of the last to show new leaves in spring and they can look dead until the leaves and flowers appear.

I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some south eastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today, but most don’t see these small flowers. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects. The plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. Each sarsaparilla flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

Our locust trees are blooming. The one shown here is a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) loaded with white, very fragrant blooms. One way to identify the tree is by the pair of short spines at the base of each leaf. Like many other legumes its leaflets fold together at night and when it rains. Its hanging flower heads remind me of wisteria.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well. They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) is more shrub than tree, but it can reach 8 feet. The beautiful pinkish purple flowers are very fragrant and bees really love them. Every time I find one in bloom it is absolutely covered with bees, which makes getting photos a challenge. What sets this locust apart from others are the bristly purple-brown hairs that cover its stems. Even its seedpods are covered by hairs. Bristly locust is native to the southeastern United States but has spread to all but 7 of the lower 48 states, with a lot of help from nurseries selling it for ornamental use.

The beautiful little flowers of red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) are hard for me to see because they’re so small, so I take photos of them so I can see them better. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s and it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.  I find them growing in dry, sandy waste areas. I’m not sure what the web or plant fibers surrounding this flower were all about.

I was bending down the stem of a sandspurry with one hand and taking its photo with the other so the penny is out of focus, but at least you can see how tiny this beautiful little flower really is, and that’s what’s important. I think you could fit about 8-10 of them on a penny.

Maybe, beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside. ~James Patterson

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1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  I’ve noticed that some of them have a lot more blue / purple on their wings than this one did.

2. Dragonfly

There are still a lot of chalk fronted corporal dragonflies flying about at local ponds. I scrapped a lot of photos taken on this day because of the harsh sunlight but I kept this one because it shows the wing netting so well. It also shows the hairy body and spiny legs. I’ve read that in general dragonflies have a maximum speed of 22–34 miles per hour and an average cruising speed of about 10 mph. It’s no wonder they’re so hard to get a photo of.

3. Male Widow Skimmer

A male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a cattail for a few seconds.  I can tell that this an adult because of its dusty bluish body and white wing markings, and I know it’s a male because the females have a yellow stripe on their body and look very different.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe. But shouldn’t the name be male widower skimmer? Maybe he skims widows, I don’t know, but I’ve decided that insect names are as strange as plant names.

4. Goose Family

I have friends who live on a local pond where the fireworks are always great on the 4th of July, so I decided to pay them a visit. Before it got dark a family of Canada geese came steaming right at us from across the pond, swimming at full speed ahead.

5. Goose Family

At the last minute the geese turned and swam away. They had come within just a foot or two of where we sat and I thought that it was odd behavior for a wild bird, especially with young. Maybe they thought we had a bag of cracked corn for them. They do look a little disappointed.

6. Fireworks

The fireworks were worth the wait, as always.

7. Fireworks

I don’t know if those bright trails were really that curvy or if it was caused by camera shake. I tried getting these photos without using a tripod, so camera shake is probably the answer.

8. Fireworks

This was one of the strangest looking fireworks that I’ve seen. It was a sort of Roman candle type that shot straight up into the air.

9. Ferns

It’s hard to beat seeing fireworks and old friends on the same day but I do enjoy the quiet and solitude of the forest and this is one of the best places I know of to find it. Something about this place speaks to me and I visit it quite often.

10. Curly Dock

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has gone into seed production but at this stage they look more like seed pearls. Once these seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant’s common name comes from their curly edges.

11. Indian Pipes

We’ve had some rain and Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are pushing up through the forest litter in large numbers. Each stem holds a single flower and what I find most curious about them is how they turn straight up to the sky when their seeds are ripe. I would think the position shown in the photo would be better for dropping seeds, but I’m sure they know what’s best.

12. Coral Fungus

The branch ends on this coral fungus are blunt and yellowish so I think this might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea.) I haven’t seen many coral fungi yet this summer but the rain and high humidity should get them growing. This example was growing on a rotten log but I see many more growing on the ground. They seem to like earth that has been well packed down because many grow on the edges of trails. Their common name comes from their resemblance to undersea coral.

13. Chanterelle Wax Cap Mushrooms

I find chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) growing in clusters on well-rotted logs.  This is a pretty little orange mushroom with a cap that might get as big as a nickel, but that’s probably stretching it. These mushrooms show themselves for quite a long time and I often still see them in September.

14. Fuzzy Foot Mushrooms

Fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella) get their common name from the dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of the stem. That and their bright orange color make them very easy to identify. The largest one in this photo might have had a cap diameter of about three quarters of an inch.  It’s easy to confuse these mushrooms with the chanterelle wax caps in the previous photo if you give them a glance without looking for the tufts of hairs at the base of the stems.

15. Wild Sarsaparilla

We like to think that fall begins at the turn of a calendar page or when tree leaves turn color, but it actually starts at the forest floor much earlier than many of us would like to believe, as these wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) leaves show.

16. Great Spangled Fritillary

Another large butterfly that seems to be everywhere this year is the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele); I’m seeing them daily. This one posed on some deer tongue grass just long enough for me to get a couple of photos. This butterfly likes moist meadows and forest edges. From what I’ve read they also like violet nectar but surely they must also like other types, because we aren’t seeing many violets at this time of year.

There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy.  It rises up in wordless gentleness, and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created beings.  ~Thomas Merton

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1. Road Start

For years, at least since I was a teenager, I’ve known about this blocked off road in Swanzey, New Hampshire. Though I’ve known for all that time that the road led into Yale forest I never knew why or where it ended up, so I decided to walk it recently and find out. Old abandoned roads can be fascinating places because you never know what you’ll find along them.

2. Sign

The forest is called Yale Forest because it is owned by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  Yale founded a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1900 and owns parcels of forest all over New England. Alumni donated land to the school or it was bought and sometimes even traded, and over time good sized pieces of forest were put together. The first land was bought by the school in 1913 but this particular parcel dates from the 1920s or 30s. It is 1,930 acres in size.

The road was once called Dartmouth College Road because if you followed in north far enough, that’s where you would have ended up. When the State Department of Transportation built what is now route 10 this section of road was abandoned and from what I gather by talking to the county forester and others, was taken over by Yale University. I’m not sure exactly how it worked but apparently, since they owned the land on both sides of the road it became theirs when it was abandoned by the state. In any event it is now considered a private road but Yale University is very good about letting locals use the forest for hiking and biking. Even their website says that the forest has a “park like atmosphere.”

3. Road

A forestry school can’t train foresters in proper forest management without a forest, so this is one of the places where they come to train, and part of that training includes how to maintain healthy woodlands. This parcel is mostly red and white pine that was planted or seeded naturally after the hurricane of 1938 blew down many of the trees that stood here, so none of it is original old growth forest.

4. Stone Wall

Stone walls crisscross everywhere you look and speak of the history of this place. At one time, in the 1800s most likely, this land was cleared for pasture and, judging by the rolling landscape and huge boulders, was probably used for sheep farming. Land like this wouldn’t have been any good for cattle and sheep farming was big business back then. Most of our hills and even Mount Monadnock were cleared right to their summits to create more pasture.

5. Vegetation Mat

I’ve been on a few abandoned roads and what struck me most about this one was how wide it is. It’s as if the forest had hardly encroached on it at all in the 85 or more years that a car hasn’t traveled on it.  Then I saw why; as the above photo shows, the mat of vegetation that grew into the road has been plowed back into the woods to maintain the road’s original width.

6. Skidders

And it’s a fair bet that this log skidder did the plowing.  It must seem to a logger like he has died and gone to heaven to have a paved road to travel on. Usually they’re up to their waists in mud.

7. Apple Blossoms

Apple trees are dotted here and there along the old roadway. Apple blossoms always remind me of my grandmother because I remember as a boy running up her stairs with near arm loads of apple blossoms because she loved their scent so. Of course, every blossom that I ran up those stairs with meant one less apple but those trees were more decorative than anything, and what a show they put on in the spring!

8. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) carpeted the woods just off the roadway. I have a contest with myself each year to see if I can find the starflower plant with the most flowers. This one had three, but my record is four and I’m always hoping for five. Starflowers are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different it can occasionally have eight petals like two of the flowers in this photo do, and I’ve seen photos of them with six petals. That’s just to remind me that always and never don’t apply in nature. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees.

9. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grew all along the sides of the road where it was sunny enough. Though this tiny wildflower is thought to be a spring ephemeral I’ve seen it bloom all summer long. I think it got the reputation for being an ephemeral because it often grows in lawns and once the lawn is mowed you don’t see the flowers any longer.

10. Plank Bridge

Beavers are active in these woods and dammed a small stream and made a pond, which then formed an outlet that ran across the old road and washed it out. I could tell that the road was here before the beavers dammed the stream by a stone wall that ran right into the beaver pond. The farmer never would have built his wall into the pond and under the water, so the beavers must have come later than the wall. The foresters have put these heavy, two inch thick planks over the washout to use as a temporary bridge.

11. Beaver Lodge

The beaver lodge looked abandoned and I didn’t see any signs of fresh tree felling. Beaver ponds are active for an average of 30 years and the first stage in creating one is damming a stream to form a pond. Our native trees aren’t meant to live with their roots under water because they take in a lot of oxygen through them, so finding living trees in an area like this would mean it was flooded recently. I didn’t see any, so this must be an older pond. Older beaver ponds fill with silt or the beavers move away and their dams erode enough to drain the land. In either case the beaver pond of today will eventually revert back to forest. When the forest has re-established itself and there are enough trees for the beavers to eat they will come back and again flood the land in a slow but ever repeating cycle.

12. Beaver Dam

The dam was still holding back water for the most part, but didn’t show any signs of recent activity on the part of the beavers.

 13. Male Mallard

Meanwhile, even though the beavers have moved away from their pond, many other kinds of wildlife still benefit from it. This one was shallow enough so all that a pair of mallards had to do was stick their heads in to feed, rather than tip their entire body up like they often do. They knew I was near and eyed me suspiciously but didn’t fly away like ducks usually seem to do.  He watched me while she fed, just in case.

14. Female Mallard 2

She spent most of the time feeding and I got shot after shot of a headless duck, but eventually was finally able to at least get her profile when she began preening. She was such a pretty bird.

 15. Log Pile

I was surprised by how small the logs were. The biggest and oldest at the bottom I doubt was even 50 years old. I wonder where they go and what becomes of them once they leave here.

16. Trail

You can tell by the trees left standing that the foresters are being very selective in what they cut, and are thinning the forest rather than cutting everything in sight. This kind of care benefits the overall health of a forest, especially since we no longer dare let forest fires burn themselves out. We have 4.8 million acres of forest In New Hampshire and a hundred years ago much of it was cleared for pasture land, so we are an excellent example of how nature reclaims the land. Man and nature can work together for the benefit of both, but it takes great care, thought and planning.

17. Killer Tree

Several trees had these “killer tree” ribbons on them and of course, me being me, I had to find out what they were all about. From what I’ve read they warn loggers that the tree is dead, diseased or has some other condition that might cause it to fall. It essentially says “stay away because this tree could fall on you.” Of course I found all of that out after standing five feet from the killer trees, taking their photos.

18. Striped Maple

One tree I’m always happy to get close to is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum,) especially when it is flowering. The yellowish green bell shaped flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers.  The loose hanging flower clusters (racemes) usually hang under the leaves but will occasionally rest on top of a leaf like this one did. They sway in the slightest breeze and can be difficult to get a good photo of.

19. Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. People sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

20. Sarsaparilla 2

In botanical terms the flower head of a wild sarsaparilla plant is called a globoid umbel. The umbel is made up of around 40 small white flowers that seem to burst from the center on long, pale green stalks (pedicels).  The flowers have five petals but I find them too small to be seen by eye. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and pollination is usually very successful; every time I’ve taken a photo of a wild sarsaparilla plant there has been an insect on it. This time is no different; I’m not sure what he is but he’s black and tiny and rests about two flowers above center at 12 o’clock.

21. Violets

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) lined the old road along with the bluets and starflowers and made the walk that much more pleasant.

22. End of the Road

I wondered where the old road came out but wasn’t too surprised to find myself on the edge of the “new” route 10. This is the road that replaced the abandoned one way back in the 20s or 30s. It’s a busy road and I had to stand here for a while to get a shot of it with no cars on it.

 23. Opposite Side of Forest

Just a short walk down route 10 from where the old road meets the new is one of my favorite views that I’ve driven past and seen out of the corner of my eye for over 20 years. Now I know what’s on the other side of it in the distance; a beaver pond.  Amazing what you can discover with just a little persistence.

Note: The photos for this post were taken over the course of a month or more, so if you think everything is a little greener at the end of the post than it was at the beginning, you’re not imagining it.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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1. Foamflowers

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. These cheery plants usually form large colonies and are quite common in this area. There are also many hybrids available and they are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

 2. Poet's Daffodil

The poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) is such an ancient plant that many believe that it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on. It can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and can be found in unmown fields. It is very fragrant and it is quite remarkable to realize, as you sit admiring its spicy fragrance, that the Roman poet Virgil once did the same thing.

3. Quince Blossoms

It’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. If you don’t like the color of the flowers in the photo there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

4. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) have also just started blooming. It’s hard to beat the sweet fragrance from these tiny white bells and it’s hard to imagine a New Hampshire garden that doesn’t have at least a few of these plants in it. The majalis part of its scientific name means “belonging to May,” and that is when it blooms.

All parts of lily of the valley are very toxic even in small amounts, so small children should be watched closely when near their bright red berries. Every child should have a chance to express their love by thrusting a fistful of wilting lily of the valley blossoms out to mom or grandma, though. I can remember doing so as a boy and I was never harmed by them.

5. Striped Maple Flowers

Flowers that I rarely see are those of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), which is a smallish understory tree that might reach 30 feet every once in a blue moon. Most are 10-15 feet or less, probably because they grow in shade, but I’ve read that they are opportunists that will suddenly shoot upward when a gap opens in the canopy. The tree gets its name from the way the green bark is striped with white when it is young. I like the long and pendulous flower heads. They sway gently in the slightest breeze, especially when a camera is pointed at them.

6. Striped Maple Flowers

The yellowish striped maple flowers are quite small, only about 1/4 inch across. Trees can have male, female or both kinds of flowers. I wonder which insects the tree hopes to attract with flowers this color.

7. Wild Sarsaparilla

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) sets flower buds just as its leaves have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from deep bronze to green. At this stage people sometimes confuse the plant for poison ivy because the young leaves can appear to be very similar. One easy to remember difference is the woody stem seen on poison ivy is not seen on this plant.

8. Wild Sarsaparilla Flower Head

A closeup of a wild sarsaparilla’s flower head. Each flower is very small but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard.

9. Painted Trillium

Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) comes along just as purple trillium (Trillium erectum) finishes blooming. Its flowers are much smaller but also showier than those of purple trillium. Each white petal has a pink V at its base. These plants like cool shaded slopes and often grow under conifers like eastern hemlock. The undulatum part of the scientific name comes from the wavy margins of the petals.

10. Mayapple Flower

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are up and blooming but are difficult to get a good photo of. This one happens to grow in a local park and the color in the background is from fallen PJM rhododendron petals. The ones that I see in the woods don’t seem to bloom very often. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten.

 11. Starflower

I like to keep an eye out for starflower plants (Trientalis borealis) with multiple blooms when I walk through the woods at this time of year. Even though books will tell you that two is their limit I think my record is four flowers on one plant. These plants are very common and can be seen in any forest in this part of the state. They get their common name from how their 5-9 pointed petals form the shape of a star. The Trientalis part of the scientific name means “one third of a foot” in Latin and describes the plant’s four inch height perfectly.

 12. Hobblebushes

Some of our most beautiful native shrubs are in the viburnum family and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is queen among them in my opinion. This is the first of the native viburnums to bloom here. High bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) will soon follow. Hobblebush flower heads are flat and bright white and can be seen from quite a distance. They like to grow along roadsides so the blooms can be easily seen at this time of year.

13. Hobblebush Blossoms

Hobblebush flower heads are large-often 6 or more inches across. They are made up of small, fertile flowers in the center and larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge. All have 5 petals. The large sterile flowers do the work of attracting insects and that’s why many viburnums have this kind of arrangement. If the great variety of fruit I see each summer is any indication, it works well.

 14. Fringed polygala

I start looking for the ground hugging, orchid like fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) as soon as I see violets bloom. No other flower in the northeast looks like this one, so identification is easy. They are also called gaywings and are among the most beautiful and interesting flowers in our forests. Each spring when I first see them I feel like I could sit and look at them for hours, absorbed by their beauty.

 15. Fringed polygala

Fringed polygala flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal, which is mostly hidden. A lot has to happen for this little flower to become pollinated. When a heavy enough insect (like a bumblebee) lands on the fringed part, the third sepal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube, where it finds the flower’s reproductive parts and gets dusted with pollen. That pollination happens at all seems a bit miraculous but in case it doesn’t, this flower has insurance. There are unseen flowers underground that can self-pollinate without the help of insects.

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. ~Jose Ortega Y Gasset

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Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.

 1. Beard Lichen

Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.

2. Bubbkegum Lichen

Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long.  This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.

4. Beechnuts

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them.  The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.

5. Beechnut  Opened

If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.

6. Wild Sarsaparilla Fruit

The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.

7. Polypody Fern Sori

Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori.  Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.

8. Cockleburrs

Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.

10. Foxtail Grass

It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.

11. Wooly Alder Aphid aka Paraprociphilus tessellatus

This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

12. Water Lily Stems

I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.

13. River Rocks

I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.

14. Old Red Oak Tree

This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

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