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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Senna’

Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves and though perspective makes it look as if these stalks were taller than the leaves they were not.

Arrowheads have such simple clean white flowers; they are very easy to understand.

Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Once it finds a place it likes it will spread.

The coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have taken on that papery petal look that signals their passing. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek echinos, which means hedgehog or sea-urchin, and it refers to the spiny center. Soon that’s all that will be left and it will persist through winter, feeding gold finches and other birds. Coneflowers are native to our prairies.

I took this photo because of the beautiful intense yellow of the goldenrods but it’s getting harder to get a shot of goldenrods without purple loosestrife being there with them.

Groundnut (Apias americana) has just come into bloom. This plant grows as a vine, usually twining its way through and over any nearby shrubs or tall plants like goldenrod. Its flowers often can’t be seen because of all the foliage and when they are seen you usually see a view like the one in the above photo.

But it’s worthwhile to look a little closer because groundnut flowers come in pink, purple or reddish brown. They are complicated things but they 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.

From the side groundnut flowers look even more like a helmet. They’re very unusual flowers.

I saw this clematis from quite a distance and decided to look a little closer because I liked its plum color.

But this clematis came in two shades of plum. This darker shade appears on the new flowers and they lighten as they age.

This plant has had me scratching my head for a few years now. At first I thought that it might be the mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) which is a small flowered native with maple shaped leaves, but the USDA says that it doesn’t grow in this area of the country. Blogging friend Clare Pooley thought that it might be Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) but again the USDA says that plant doesn’t grow naturally in this area. And that is the hitch; this plant is in a garden so it isn’t growing naturally, and that means that it could be anything. I’ve read that the calyx and a few other identifying features will tell the tale so I’ve got to get back and take more photos.

Purple morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is another flower that shines out its divine inner light. Unlike the wild bindweeds morning glory is an annual, so it grows new from seed each year. I always have to  stand in awe of its amazing ethereal light, just for a few moments.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) 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. Though I’ve never eaten one I used to dig them for clients of mine that grew them for food and I’ll never forget how very tall these plants can be. This one grew up through the middle of a native dogwood and towered over it.

Obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana) are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flower stalks stay where they are if they are bent; they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed them.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is said to be very invasive but I usually have to look for them each year. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities. In the Middle Ages, yellow toadflax was called wild snapdragon because of its close resemblance to the garden snapdragon.

The common name toadflax comes from the leaves , which are narrow like flax leaves, and the flower’s mouth “like unto a frog’s mouth,” from an old herbal. Another old source says that “Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.”

The trick though, is that you have to pinch the flower to get to see its open mouth. When pinched on the sides the lower lip falls and the flower opens, revealing four toothlike stamens and a double pistil or tongue. It takes a heavy insect like a bumblebee to force open the flowers and get inside. Once inside they have to crawl as far down into the spur as they can to reach the nectar with their tongues. It sounds like an awful lot of work, so I hope the nectar is extra sweet.

This is the time of year when gardens are filled with phlox blossoms, some so fragrant they will just carry you away on a warm late summer evening. I wanted to get a photo of this particular example because it is such a difficult color for my camera to get correct unless the lighting is perfect. I think it came out true to the original.

White can be another tough color to photograph so I had to try those too. Phlox are beautiful things.

I’ve spoken here probably far too many times of how colorblindness can often prevent my seeing red in nature. If a red cardinal lands in a green tree it immediately disappears from my sight and the same is true for the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis.) The first time I ever saw this flower a couple of years ago I had the help of Judy from the New England Garden and Thread blog. She sent me directions on where to find them, and it was worth the effort. This time I found them with the help of a friend from work. They grew on the banks of a stream and though I was almost stepping on them and still had trouble seeing them I was finally able to find them, and once again they were very beautiful.

Red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to see, so I had to take many photos to get what you see here. A single cardinal flower has five petals with three on its lower lip and two on its upper. These petals come together in a tube at their base. This makes it very difficult for insects to get at the nectar which hides at the base of the tube, so cardinal flowers rely on hummingbirds for pollination. Its five stamens are joined together into another tube formed around the style, with brushy anthers at the top. When a hummingbird, or sometimes a butterfly, dips in to get at the nectar the anthers deposit a dot of pollen on its head. When it visits another flower pollination will be complete. This flower isn’t at all common here and so far getting close to it has involved a bit of work, along with muddy feet.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~Henri Matisse

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1. Cone Flower Seed Head

It struck me recently that for close to 4 years now I’ve been telling all of you that you don’t even have to leave your yards to study nature, but I’ve never done a post about what I see in my own yard. This post will start to make up for that.

I started with the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), which I always leave standing for the birds. They ate most of the seeds from this one but left a little patch of them untouched. Goldfinches love these seeds so it makes me wonder why this tiny bit was rejected. Didn’t they taste good? Were they not ripe enough? I guess I’ll never know.  Since this photo was taken snow has buried it.

2. False Indigo Seed Pod

This false indigo (Baptisia australis) seed pod only had one seed left in it, but others had more. They often rattle in the wind. Sparrows, quail, grosbeaks and many songbirds like these seed and many different butterflies are attracted to the flowers. Deer won’t eat the foliage, and in this yard that’s a bonus.

3. Wild Senna Seed Head

The long, curved seedpods of wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) split lengthwise to reveal the seeds, so even though they don’t look like they’re open in this photo, they are. Many species of butterfly caterpillars like to feed on the foliage of this plant, including cloudless sulfur and orange barred sulfur. Bumblebees are attracted to its bright yellow flowers which open in late summer. This plant reminds me of a giant, 3 foot tall partridge pea.

4. Wild Senna Seed

The seed pod of wild senna has segments and each segment holds a single oval, flat seed that is about 1/4 inch across. The seeds are bigger than many seeds in my yard and bigger birds eat them. Mourning doves and many game birds like bob whites, partridge, turkeys, and quail like them, but there seems to be plenty of seeds left this year.

5. Maple Leaved Viburnum Fruit

The birds ate most of the fruit from the maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium,) but there are a few left. I’ve noticed that there are always seem to be a few still hanging on in spring. Many species of birds love these berries, including many songbirds.

6. Crabapple

Birds like the crabapples but they always seem to leave one or two of these behind as well. Do you see a pattern here? Birds, at least the ones in my yard, never seem to eat every seed or fruit that’s available. It seems kind of odd, especially in a winter as severe as this one has been.

7. Hemlock Needles

Eastern or Canada hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) surround my yard along with white pines, oaks, and maples. The hemlocks provide plenty of seeds for the smaller birds like black capped chickadees. They are a messy tree though, and shed their smaller branches, needles, and cones all winter long. I like the white racing stripes on the undersides of the flat needles. They are actually four rows of white breathing pores (stomata) which are too small to be seen without magnification; even my macro lens couldn’t show us those.

8. Hemlock Cone

The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments, so the next time an ointment helps your sore muscles, thank a hemlock.

9. Pink Something on Hemlosk Branch

I’m not sure what this pink bit of wooly fluff was that I found on a hemlock branch, but it was too big to be a hemlock wooly adelgid, which is a tiny, white woolly insect that sucks the life out of hemlocks and can eventually kill them.  I’m assuming that it is a cocoon of some sort.

10. Porella liverwort

After traveling all over the county looking for liverworts, imagine my surprise when I found this Porella liverwort growing on a hemlock limb. Its leaves were very small and at first I thought it was a moss but the photos showed overlapping leaves in two rows rather than the spirally arranged leaves of a moss. This photo isn’t very good so I’ll have to try to get a better one later on. Its leaves are small enough so they took my macro lens right to its limit.

11. Moss on Maple

This coin sized bit of moss was growing on the bark of a red maple. For the most part mosses, lichens and liverworts are epiphytic rather than parasitic and don’t take anything from trees, but I do wonder why they choose to grow where they do. In the case of this moss, it’s on the side of the tree that gets morning sun in summer and there is probably a channel in the tree bark that water runs down when it rains, so it’s most likely a perfect spot for it. It was covered in spore capsules so it’s obviously very happy.

12. Moss on Maple Closeup 2-2

This is a closer look at the spore capsules on the moss in the previous photos. They were tiny things hardly bigger in diameter than a piece of uncooked spaghetti. The capsules were all open so this moss has released its spores. I think this one might be crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) because of its curly, contorted leaves and the way the base of its spore capsules gradually taper down to the stalks. It’s a moss that prefers tree trunks.

 13. Maple Sap Flow

Seeing sap flowing from a maple tree might get some excited about spring, but this is just a bleeding frost crack. Anyone who has sat quietly in the woods on a winter night around here has heard the crack of “exploding” trees. It’s as loud as a rifle shot and happens when the temperature drops quickly at night. They usually happen on the south side of a tree where the sun warms the tree during the day. Then at night when the temperature drops below 15 °F, the outer layer of wood can contract much quicker than the inner layer and (bang!) you have a frost crack.  I was sorry to see it on this red maple in my yard because a wound like this is a perfect spot for disease and rot to gain a foothold.

14. Unknown Growth on Maple

It could already be too late for this red maple; I found these tiny fungi growing on the shady side away from the frost crack. At least I think they’re fungi. I’ve never seen them before and have no idea how they appeared in such cold weather. The biggest example was about half the diameter of a pea and appeared to be growing directly out of the tree’s bark. When I can stop shoveling paths, roofs, and decks I’ll have to shovel a path to them so I can watch and see what they do. The snow where the tree grows is about 3 feet deep now.

15. Sring Growth on Blue Spruce-2

The blue spruce in my yard is all ready to grow new buds as soon as it warms up. It’s teaching me patience; since the temperature for the last 23 days has been below freezing, I need a good lesson in it.

Your deepest roots are in nature.  No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.  ~Charles Cook

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I hate to say it but the days of back to back posts with each containing 12-15 previously unseen wildflowers might be coming to an end. Drought and the usual late summer doldrums mean that there aren’t many flowers blooming right now, either in or out of the garden.  Not to worry though, because there are a lot of exciting things happening in the woods and I still have plenty of fascinating things to show you, even though there may not be petals involved.Our native white turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are flowering much earlier than the pink one in my garden. As you can see in the photo, some hungry insect had eaten all of the leaves off this plant but hadn’t touched the flowers. These plants like sunshine and constantly moist soil. I found this one growing about 50 feet from a pond in wet soil.Someone thought the flowers of Chelone glabra looked like turtle heads but I’m not really seeing it. I have to admit though, that I don’t see many turtles. In any case they don’t look like any other flower that blooms at this time and are very easy to identify. Bumblebees pollinate these flowers. They are an excellent choice for a woodland garden because deer and other herbivores don’t usually eat the bitter foliage. The bright colors on this blister beetle (Coleoptera) warn potential predators of its poisonous nature. The bug secretes a poisonous substance called cantharidin that, it is said, can blister skin. This one was happily munching on this red clover (Trifolium pretense) blossom. I wasn’t in ready to find out if it really could blister skin so I left it alone.I’ve been trying to rid my gardens of obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) for several years and, though there are no large colonies of it left, small groups of two or three plants will still appear. I was about to pull these when I noticed these two Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) being friendly on a blossom.  I decided to leave the plants alone even though they are among the most invasive native plants that I have seen. Obedient plants get their common name from the way the flowers  stay where they are moved-they are “obedient.” I like the flowers, but don’t like having to weed the plants out of just about everywhere.The beetles weren’t happy with my watching them so they crawled into a blossom to be alone. I took that as my cue to leave.The flower spikes are so packed with blossoms that you don’t often get to see a single Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flower. They are beautiful flowers but unfortunately this is another extremely invasive plant from Europe. I’ve seen stream banks recently that originally lost their native plant populations to Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) several years ago. Now, purple loosestrife has choked out even the knotweed, and huge swaths of it follow long stretches of stream banks. Though these scenes can be breathtakingly beautiful, there are generations of people who will have never seen a native stream bank.A few posts ago I showed photos of garden tall phlox plants with yellowing leaves which were suffering from drought. I noticed that our native Purple phlox weren’t having the same problems. In fact, they’re looking very healthy because they are tougher plants. There are so many varieties of phlox that it’s easy to get confused. Even Native Americans used over 40 species of the plan! I believe the one shown here is Phlox paniculata, which is native to the eastern U.S.Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is sometimes called white goldenrod but at a glance the only thing it seems to have in common with goldenrod is its leaves. The way the flowers are scattered along the stem doesn’t resemble any goldenrod that I know of but the single blossoms do look like those of yellow goldenrods. The plant pictured grows beside my driveway under an old hemlock tree. If you look at the flower clusters of goldenrod (Solidago) closely you can see the often bypassed beauty of each individual blossom.Bittersweet nightshadei (Solanum dulcamara) is in all stages of growth; flowering, setting seed, and some plants already have ripe, bright red berries that resemble tiny tomatoes. This plant was just forming one green fruit. All parts of this plant are toxic and the berries are known to kill humans.Small white flowered asters (Aster vimineus) are named well. They are very small-smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser, but each flower cluster has enough white blossoms to stand apart from the darker forest growth that always seems to be behind them. One thing that always surprises me about asters is how some of them look as if a small child had glued the petals (rays) on to the center disk. They can appear very irregular and asymmetrically placed.

To identify this one look for the smallest white aster blossom you can find and take note of how most of the numerous flowers and flower buds seem to align themselves to one side of the purplish stem.  Also, the upper leaves on the branches will be smaller than those lower down on the main stem. These plants can reach 5 feet and branch heavily over the top one third of their height. They like soil on the dry side. Wild senna (Cassia hebecarpa) is a native plant that is rarely seen in the wild here in the Northeast and is listed as threatened or endangered. They say this is primarily due to loss of habitat. The leaves and seed pods of wild senna contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives, so deer leave it alone. I have this plant in my yard to attract butterflies and bees and also because I like the yellow flowers with their hairy pistils and dark brown anthers. Almost all of the other water lilies in this pond had flowers that sat right on the water, but this one was apparently an over achiever. Or a different species than all of the others in the pond.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.  ~
Henri Matisse

Thanks again for visiting.  Be sure to tune in next time for a post full of color, but without a single flower in it.

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