Finding a plant that you’ve never seen before can be exciting and even exhilarating, depending on the rarity of the plant and the likelihood of ever seeing it again – and on the efforts taken to observe such a thing. Finding a plant that you already know, but haven’t seen in the flowering or fruiting stage, or locating a flower in a new location can be just as exciting.
Once you’re familiar with some perennial plants, and if you know where a perennial plant comes up in the Spring, you can watch these plants change through the seasons. The same can be said for planting annuals by seed.
A fun project to do with interested children is to keep a photographic record by clicking a few photos each week as your plants develop. Compare the growth of your plant by comparing photos as you go along. You might learn a thing or two about your favorite perennial or wild herb.
A fairly common plant of our mixed-hardwood forest is a flowering herbaceous plant called False Solomon’s Seal, Smilacina racemosa. It’s noted for its similarity to Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum, except for its terminal flower stalk and lack of dangling bell-shaped flowers.
Leaves of both False Solomon’s Seal and Solomon’s Seal are linear-veined oval leaves that alternate along a single arched stem. As the plant emerges from the ground the leaves are already forming.
The twisted stalks of the perennial False Solomon’s Seal coming up at base of an oak tree.
Leaves are rolled together at first and unfurl as the plant stalk grows, about 8 – 12 inches tall in these images, taken 2 May 2010. The main reason we can confidently state these are False Solomon’s Seal plants is that we’re familiar with these perennials that come up in the same place each Spring.
Last autumn I brought back a specimen of what I think is Dove’s Foot Geranium and planted it next to the house. The plant overwintered quite well, started growing in early spring, and now is spreading out.
In the image above, taken 2 May 2010, the large plant on the left overwintered in PA but was originally from NY. Note the new shoots – that must be arising from new roots – on the right of the original New York geranium.
We still look forward to its blooming later this summer. Once we can see the flower arrangement, flower size, and seedpods, we’ll be able to verify the Geranium species.
A friend gave us a few plants a couple of years ago, but not a store-bought variety. His property is next to the Juniata River and one of his favorite past times is to go down to the river and see what he can find. Sometimes he’ll come back up the hill with buckets of minnows or baby catfish that would then be raised in fish tanks. River rock and driftwood are common finds and so are plastic chairs and other sundry items that get washed downstream during heavy rains. Once in a while he’ll venture far enough to dig up flowering plants that he usually transplants near his goldfish pond.
We were lucky to receive these beautiful yellow flags or yellow irises. The plants get about three feet tall, but many of the sword like leaves arch over to a foot or two tall. From year to year the iris plants get bigger and this year they flowered the most in their three years here on the mountain ridge. I think last year each plant had one flower stalk with 1 – 3 blooms. This year there are five flower stalks among two clumps of iris planted in different areas. Each flower stalk had 1-5 flowers.
Three flower buds are apparent in the images above. Photos taken 2 May 2010.
The yellow flag is typical of Iris species, where the large yellow “petals” that are veined with purple and that arch downward are really the sepals. Smaller upward pointing petals are the true petals. Inside to the petals are three styles, which look like smaller erect petals. The yellow flag has purple lines on the large bright yellow sepals and a lighter yellow color on the other flower parts.
Even though the yellow flags, that were found down by the river, seemed to be a natural plant there, the Iris pseudacorus is not native to the United States. Yellow irises are native to Europe and the specimens that we find along rivers and creeks are garden escapees. We could also say the yellow flags are naturalized to our area in South-central PA.
Somehow it feels good to have re-captured a wayside plant. We can enjoy its beautiful yellow blossoms and sword like foliage whenever we’re outside the house.
There is no indication in Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide or Peterson’s Medical Plants Guide that the yellow flag has any edible or medicinal value. Beyond its appeal as a garden member, its long linear leaves could be used to make small baskets for collecting berries and cones. The leaves also lend themselves as natural additions to cut flower arrangements.
In the autumn the iris plants can be separated into individual fans and re-planted. Use a sharp spade to slice through the roots in between the small groups or fans of leaves. Or, dig up the entire plant and use a sharp knife or shovel to separate the fans, roots and all. Transplant to new area, water and mulch. Look forward to next year’s blooms!
Some flowers will bloom and re-bloom and we’ll see them brightening our roadsides and fields until fall. Some of the earliest flowers that stick around for a while are the fleabanes.
Fleabane comes in two often-seen varieties, both having compound flowers with numerous, very thin, strap-like white ray flowers that surround yellow disc flowers.
Daisy fleabane, Erigeron annuus, also known as Sweet Scabious, has ray flowers that are shorter than the width of the central yellow disc. Ray flowers number from 40 to 70, fewer than the common fleabane which has over a hundred rays.
Common fleabane, Erigeron philadelphicus, also known as Philadelphia Fleabane, has ray flowers that are about the same length as the width of the central yellow disc.
Daisy fleabane can reach five feet tall, but the shorter common fleabane only gets about three feet tall.
The leaves for both types of fleabane are long, hairy and toothed, but the stem leaves of common fleabane clasp the stem whereas the leaves of daisy fleabane do not clasp the stem.
Common fleabane may start flowering in April and end in August, while daisy fleabane flowers later in the season and longer, from June to October. Since the flowering times of daisy fleabane and common fleabane overlap in the summertime, we have to look at their physical characteristics to tell them apart.
The flowers may be hard to distinguish especially if you don’t have one of each plant to make the comparisons. Probably the easiest way to differentiate the two fleabanes is to look at the alternating stem leaves. Common fleabane leaves clasp the stem.
Flower buds are often pink, and sometimes the mature flowers retain the pink color instead of turning to white as most of these roadside posies do.
Any of the plants that are mowed down can regenerate to flower again later in the season. Perhaps that’s one reason why we see the fleabanes flowering along many roads in the summertime.
The whole plant of common fleabane has been used in tea to treat a number of illnesses, as Peterson’s Medical Plants Guide indicates astringent and diuretic properties. Sufferers of HHT, Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia, a blood vessel disorder that causes bleeding, may like to know that hemorrhages of the stomach, bowels, bladder, kidneys and nose have been stopped with folk remedies of common fleabane. (Errata: the 1990 version of the Peterson’s Medical Plants Guide lists Erigeron philadelphicus as Daisy Fleabane, not Common Fleabane.)
Perhaps tea of either fleabane would have similar properties for stopping bleeding…can anyone verify this notion?
Walking the woods is a favorite activity for many of us forest wanderers. We go in search of different things. Some of us look for wild herbs that we might use and flowers to appreciate and take delight in. Others look for trails of animals and their tracks, for better hunting when that time comes. Regardless of your reason to take that walk in the woods, keep your senses aware as you never know what you’ll find.
A few weeks back I spoke with a land manager at a local park. He was more than a little disgusted by the work performed by people over a year ago when an extra large drainage pipe was installed at the creek, without apparent need for it. Although the installation of the pipe seemed to be ok, we may never know as the size of pipe installed wasn’t warranted by the water flow of the creek – the pipe is just too big for the location.
During the drainage pipe installation no care was taken to protect the plants that naturally come up in this area. The land manager told me there were a handful of showy orchis – orchids – that were destroyed in the laying of the pipe. He had known of three plants that used to appear in the area where gravel had been laid during the pipe installation.
Hearing the news that the only known plants in the whole park were now under a bed of gravel, I had little hope of finding showy orchis at the park. Even so, I took a little extra time combing the area adjacent to the place where the showy orchis used to appear. The efforts were worth the time as I did find three little beauties – what a pleasant surprise!
Showy orchis, a member of the Orchid family, is probably one of the most common orchids in Pennsylvania. Something about orchids makes them seem rare and mysterious. We do have orchids here in the temperate zone, but many more kinds of orchids grow in more tropical locales. The orchids are noted for their odd flowers and many are cultivated by true afficinados.
So, what does showy orchis look like? Two basal leaves lie opposite one another, while the flower stem has smaller, oval-shaped ‘leaves’ that are pointed on the end. Basal leaves are broadly oval and may be slightly pointed to blunt-ended. One to five prominent veins are visible on the thick leaves.
A succulent flower stem rises up from the middle of the two basal leaves. Along the flower stem are what appear to be several smaller leaves, each having a single flower in the leaf axil. These small leaves associated with individual flowers are more properly called bracts. The presence of flower bracts can be used as an identifying feature of showy orchis as several related species do not have flower bracts.
Flowers are bicolored in white and light pink to magenta. Petals and sepals are fused to make a flower with only two petals and a spur. The broad, wavy-edged lower lip petal and long spur are white. The smooth-edged upper petal which forms a hood is usually somewhat pink to darker pink or magenta, but sometimes it appears to be white making an all white flower.
Photos here were a little too early to capture the flowers open. When opened, the orchid exhibits a pinkish hood and white lip and spur. The white spur is slightly longer than the flower bud. The flowers here present as all white. Perhaps the purple-rose color will develop as the flower matures.
Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, once known as Orchis spectabilis, is called showy orchis, even though this plant was moved from the Orchis genus to new genus called Galearis. This is a particularly silly example of how confusing common names can be. The showy orchis isn’t an orchis at all, yet we still call it showy orchis.
An example showy orchis with three flowers in the image below seems to be a young plant of about 3 x 5 inches with a 2-inch flower spike.
Note a second and third plant hiding to the left and behind of the flowering showy orchis. The blooms appear to be all white at this point.
In the center of the photo above a Showy Orchis orchid hides among the wild ginger and ferns near the creek.
These showy orchis weren’t very showy at all. The flowers weren’t open and the pink to magneta color wasn’t there either.
The image above shows a typical bicolor flower of white and pink. The flowers are open and more clearly show their hood and lip shapes.
The Showy Orchis orchid can be found in rich woods and near water, especially creeks and springs that run through woodlands. Look for this flowering orchid during the first two weeks of May or perhaps a little later in more northern or mountainous areas.