Forest Flowers Disappear in Summertime

Summertime flowers generally won’t be found in the forests. They just don’t get enough sunlight among the trees.

Trail Wanders Through the Forest
Trail Wanders Through the Forest

It was a cloudy day when I took a walk at one of my favorite haunts and it seemed pretty dark on the parts of the trail that meandered through the forest. Cooler, but dark. Surprisingly dark when looking through the camera lens!

It’s technically the third week of Summer now and the heat and humidity will have you feeling every sticky note of it.

I did find one new plant flowering in several places at Little Buffalo State Park along the Mill Race Trail and around the Day Use Area. It was a tall plant reaching over 6 feet in a couple of spots.

Places where it was seen flowering profusely were areas receiving lots of light from above, not among the trees in the forest. If the canopy was thick, there were no flowers that I could see.

Read more

Violets Abound on the Ridgetop

Northern downy violets and common blue violets were very pretty for the last month. At our location in south-central Pennsylvania the common violet comes into full bloom about a week after the northern violets are peaking in their abundance.

Downy northern violet starts blooming here during the last week of April. As a community they bloom for at least a couple of weeks with new flowers springing up in between the long scalloped leaves of any given plant. Violet plants that receive only morning sun started blooming later than those in the open yard, so our entire blooming season for these pretty purple violets lasts about a month.

Downy leaves of the downy northern violet.
Downy leaves of the downy northern violet.
Common blue violet in the lawn.
Common blue violet in the lawn.

The easiest way to tell the difference between downy northern violet and the common blue violet is to look at their leaves. The downy northern has elongated leaves with scalloped edges and spurs on each side at the base of each leaf. The first leaves of the season are shorter and somewhat rounded and they may be confused with the common blue violet leaves which are heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.

Elongated downy northern violet leaves.
Elongated downy northern violet leaves.
Common blue violet with heart-shaped leaves.
Common blue violet with heart-shaped leaves.

We appeared to have lost the only two examples of arrow-leaved violets this winter. These plants were different than the much more plentiful common blue and downy northern violets. The leaves were large and the whole plant noticeable from a distance merely due to its size, as compared to the diminutive downy northern violets. The blooms weren’t much different as I remember, but the leaves were more wedge-shaped than the upright and narrow leaves of the downy northern violet.

Arrow-leaved violet.
Arrow-leaved violet.

We decided to hold off on making violet jelly this year. We still have one jar and plenty of other jellies in the pantry, so as Momma would say, “Waste not, want not!” We’ll save the sugar for making blackberry jelly or maybe elderberry jelly in 2 or 3 months.

Deerberry Blooms Light up the Wood’s Edge

This rainy year produced some spectacular flower displays. One that we see in the forest is called Deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum. It’s a member of the Heath Family, Ericaceae, as are the blueberries and huckleberries, and it’s also native to the eastern United States.

Small deerberry shrubs at the edge of the woods are 2-3 feet tall.
Small deerberry shrubs at the edge of the woods are 2-3 feet tall. Photo taken 13 May 2011.

The foliage looks a lot like that of the lowbush blueberry, but the flowers are distinct. Each bell-shaped flower is white to pinkish-white with many stamens that protrude beyond the edge of the short bell. The five lobes at the edge of the bell do not flare outward as the blossoms of the blueberries do.

The flowers are arranged in loose clusters where each blossom dangles just below a small leaf on the main stem. This ‘leafy-bracted raceme’ is a character worth noting to identify deerberry.

Three leafy bracted racemes are present in this closeup of deerberry flowers with their long stamens.
Three leafy bracted racemes are present in this closeup of deerberry flowers with their long stamens. Photo taken 13 May 2011.
By holding up a branch of the deerberry, you can see how the flowers dangle below their stem.
By holding up a branch of the deerberry, you can see how the flowers dangle below their stem. Photo taken 13 May 2011.
Mass blooming of deerberry. Note how the flowers are tucked behind the new growth of light green leaves.
Mass blooming of deerberry. Note how the flowers are tucked behind the new growth of light green leaves. Photo taken on 23 May 2011.

(Click on any of the photos to see larger images.)

Deerberry blooming at the edge of the woods.
Deerberry blooming at the edge of the woods on 23 May 2011.

Huckleberries On the Mountain Ridge Are Lowbush Blueberries

We made an interesting discovery this year in our wooded acres on the mountain ridge. A lot of undergrowth is present near the wood’s edge. That’s not too surprising because the deer population has a lot of choice of what to eat around here in the country. We see them crossing our property as they go into or out of the crop field next door, so to speak.

We did plant some goldenseal one year that didn’t flourish and I blamed their lack of growth and eventual disappearance on the local deer population. Perhaps so.

Anyway, I was surprised that we had these little low-growing shrubs flower this year. In overall appearance, these shrubs look similar to the deerberry that we’ve seen flower many times. This year was the most spectacular display of deerberry blooming so far!

I’m told by the local farmer that they call the plant “huckleberry”. It’s like a wild low-growing blueberry. Indeed, Newcomb’s description for the Early Low Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, fits it like a glove. Peterson’s Medicinal Plants Guide calls this species the Late Lowbush Blueberry with its blueberry fruit ripening in August or September. Our lowbush blueberry is probably the early variety as its fruit was already turning from light green to pink in late June before turning blue.

Pink lowbush blueberry fruits.
Pink lowbush blueberry fruits. Photo taken 26 Jun 2011.

Flowers dangle in clusters at the tips of stems. Urn-shaped with five flaring tips, blueberry blossoms are typically white with shades of pink. The flowers of huckleberries and blueberries are very similar.

Leaves of the blueberries, Vaccinium spp., are soft to the touch and no where as near as leathery as the leaves of the Box Huckleberry, Gaylussacia brachycera.

Lowbush blueberries are about a foot tall, with green stems that terminate in oval-shaped, pointy-tipped leaves. Flower clusters are borne on the green stems between leafy side branches.

Green stems support several flowers clusters in between the leafy stems.
Green stems support several flowers clusters in between the leafy stems. Photo taken 13 May 2011.
Flower cluster of lowbush blueberry showing blossoms of different ages. The petals of the early flowers have fallen away, while others are blooming or not yet opened.
Flower cluster of lowbush blueberry showing blossoms of different ages. The petals of the early flowers have fallen away, while others are blooming or not yet opened. Photo taken 13 May 2011.
Flowers of a Duke Blueberry, V. corymbosum, are quite similar to the lowbush blueberry, except that these highbush blueberry blossoms are pure white. The stems attain their woody character with age.
Flowers of a Duke Blueberry, V. corymbosum, are quite similar to the lowbush blueberry, except that these highbush blueberry blossoms are pure white. The stems attain their woody character with age. Photo taken 13 May 2011.

A week or more later, other huckleberries were seen blooming in the woods. Some of the flowers were more pink than white.

Pink cluster of lowbush blueberry flowers. Note that the flower clusters arise on the previous year's new growth, which has become woody.
Pink cluster of lowbush blueberry flowers. Note that the flower clusters arise on the previous year's new growth, which has become woody. Photo taken 23 May 2011.

Fruits are small and ripen into the familiar blue berries in early to mid July. One can just see the remnants of the flower blossom’s five tips on the bottom of the berry.

Huckleberries ripening from green to pink to blue.
Huckleberries ripening from green to pink to blue. Photo taken 2 July 2011.
Huckleberry or Lowbush Blueberry fruit gets bigger as it matures from pink to blue.
Huckleberry or Lowbush Blueberry fruit gets bigger as it matures from pink to blue. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

I tasted the lowbush blueberries, but I didn’t think they had much flavor, at least not compared to the highbush blueberries we planted a few years back. We’ll leave the small berries for the birds and chipmunks in hopes that they’ll leave us our delicious blueberries.

Snowy Crocus, Sunny Hepatica

April weather can be very exciting. On the first of April it snowed on our mountain ridge, to be followed in two weeks time by record high temperatures!

Sometimes the plants don’t know what to do and put off growing or blooming until the conditions are better. My photos from last Spring show that we’re about a week to 10 days behind last year’s blooming times. Those that flower first in April are likely to be dusted with snow or harmed by a frost. Spring bulbs don’t seem to mind though.

Crocus flowers covered by snow in April.
Crocus flowers covered by snow in April.

Cold hardy crocuses can take the cold and the snow. These flowers were in bloom another week after this photo was snapped. Photo taken 1 April 2011.

In the woods I think the hepatica has been waiting for a little sun to open its flowers. The past week was rather cloudy and wet, until Thursday when the temperature rose up to record highs in central Pennsylvania. Harrisburg hit 84 degrees. People were outside everywhere!

Hepatica blossoms blooming in the sunshine.
Hepatica blossoms blooming in the sunshine.

The nice weather has really brought in the feeling of Spring, where you want to be outside and feel the breeze on your face and the warm sun on your skin. Enjoy it and look around – you never know what you’ll find!

Sweet Everlasting Blooms For Weeks

Flowers of pearly everlasting Anaphalis margar...
Image via Wikipedia

Walking around a corn field that will be harvested in a couple weeks surely tells us it’s autumn. The corn is drying up, but still quite a lot of green leaves on the upper half of the tall stalks. The leaves crunch under our feet and the birds are really active. Starlings are starting to flock together. Earlier this week we probably saw the hummingbirds for the last time this year as they visited the butterfly bush near the house.

There aren’t very many flowers drawing our attention these days as the trees are really showing their fall colors now. The maple trees are in full color up on the ridge, but down in the city the color change hasn’t begun in earnest.

We did see a lone flowering plant with white flower heads in clusters. The flowers were a bit odd in that they looked kind of like a cotton swab. There are no petals to speak of so the flower parts are said to be indistinguishable.

The whole plant seems to have a covering of cottony growth, but that is accentuated in the globular flower heads. The long linear leaves have white wooly undersides. The leaves are alternate and entire and do not clasp the stem.

Sweet Everlasting, also called Catfoot or Rabbit Tobacco, is botanically known as Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium, a member of the Aster family, Asterideae. The group of related Gnaphaliums may be called Cudweeds. By the way the derivation of the genus name, Gnaphalium, comes from a Greek term meaning ‘tuft of wool.’

Branched groups of flower heads are at the top of a single cottony main stem that appears to be covered with white wool or cotton. Flowers are white with tinges of yellow mostly appearing when the flowers go to seed.

Branching flower heads of Sweet Everlasting.
Branching flower heads of Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.

Sweet everlasting has a long bloom period, perhaps a few weeks during July through October. It’s fragrant, too. Smelling sweet and kind of like maple syrup.  The miniscule flowers are surrounded by white scaly bracts.

White cottony flower heads of Sweet Everlasting.
White cottony flower heads of Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.

From above the alternate and linear nature of the leaves is obvious.

Looking down on the 2 ft. tall Sweet Everlasting.
Looking down on the 2 ft. tall Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.
Sweet everlasting flowers gone to seed.
Sweet everlasting flowers gone to seed. Photo taken 10 October 2010.

A month later most of the Sweet Everlasting flowers have gone to seed. The central and upper leaf clusters of flower heads still have their seeds intact. The other flower heads have opened up to release their seeds. The opened flower bracts look like dried flowers. This characteristic is shared with a related flower called Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, which is very showy and often used in dried flower arrangements.

Ox-eye Daisy Pretty Along the Roads

The Ox-eye Daisy is very common along roadsides, in fields and waste places in the United States and Canada. Maybe it’s so common because it is an introduced or alien plant that isn’t native to this part of the world.

The white petals and yellow “eye” are really the ray and disc flowers of this perennial, composite flower, Leucanthemum vulgare.

Large groupings of this old time perennial are often seen along the highways.
Large groupings of this old time perennial are often seen along the highways. Photo taken 10 June 2010.
Ready for cut flowers in a vase.
Ready for cut flowers in a vase.
Leaves are sparse and very narrow with widely separated pointed teeth.
Leaves are sparse and very narrow with widely separated pointed teeth.

Like many of the composites this wild daisy can be mowed over and it will regenerate another set of flowers.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Poison Hemlock Prolific in the Fence Rows

From the end of May and for nearly the whole month of June we kept seeing this tall flowering weed everywhere. It pops up in fence rows, empty fields, along the highway, near the river and in waste areas.

It’s a tall plant that reaches 4-8 feet tall, with a few individuals getting up to 12 feet tall. This weedy alien plant blooms for a few weeks with very small white flowers in rounded clusters or umbels.

One day while traveling down a country road, I asked my friend to pull over so I could get a closer look at this flowering roadside weed. Since there were so many of these plants in many places I yanked one up to bring it home for a better look. When I brought it back to the car my driver said, “Hey, don’t bring any poisonous stuff in here!” I’m not sure why that was said as I have littered the car with plant specimens many times before, so I retorted with a quick, “Of course, not!”

After arriving home I consulted Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide to identify the roadside weed. Well, luck would have it that the flowers with five parts, having alternate, divided leaves, and white flowers in umbels indicated this weed to be Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum. OMG! When I asked my friend why she said what she said, she replied, “It just looked like poison!”

I have to admit the whole plant had this wierd smell. It was a funky smell that might be described as acrid or dank, kind of like wet dirty socks. A week later I stopped at a parking lot to get some pictures of the weed. Where the edge of an empty field met the gravel of the parking lot, the Poison Hemlock grew prolifically there. The smell was undeniable.

Poison hemlock growing in an open area at the edge of a parking lot.
Poison hemlock growing in an open area at the edge of a parking lot.

Phew! No wonder flies pollinate this stinky stuff!

Many small white flowers, less than a quarter-inch across, held in umbels.
Many small white flowers, less than a quarter-inch across, held in umbels.

Several umbels are already setting seed while other umbels are blooming.

The rounded umbels of poison hemlock make it easy to spot along fence rows.
The rounded umbels of poison hemlock make it easy to spot along fence rows.

In the photo above the foreground flowers are oxeye daisies and the white flowers in the background are poison hemlock.

The smell alone should alert anyone that this plant shouldn’t be ingested, but every year several people try it anyway. Why anyone would think a white and purple blotched “carrot” is an edible one is the mystery. We all know their tap roots are orange!

Cohorts of poison hemlock at the parking lot were sumac, daylilies, oxeye daisy, purple loosestrife, nightshade, blackberries, common mullein and crown-vetch.

The large compound or divided leaves appear rather lacy or fern-like and they clasp the main stem, sheathing it. Purple blotches or spots are highly visible on the substantial stems, especially at the base.  This plant may look sort of like wild carrot, but the tap root is white with purple spots and streaks, not orange. Do not attempt to eat any Parsley Family members without assured identification. Death may result!

A single compound leaf of poison hemlock.
A single compound leaf of poison hemlock. Note the purple stem coloration.
A single leaflet, one of three, of poison hemlock.
A single leaflet, one of three, of poison hemlock.
Pencil rubbing of partial leaflet of Poison Hemlock.
Pencil rubbing of partial leaflet of Poison Hemlock.
Close-up view of poison hemlock flowers held in umbels.
Close-up view of poison hemlock flowers held in umbels.

Photos taken 10 June 2010.

The small bracts underneath the umbels are entire. Another member of the Parsley Family, Wild Carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, has divided bracts that are deeply and narrowly lobed.

If you remember your history lessons, poison hemlock was used to kill the famous philosopher Socrates back in ancient Athens. A very small amount ingested can cause death. Take caution and realize that the  juice from the plant can cause dermatitis. I didn’t suffer any rash or itching after I handled it, but some people might be sensitive to it. Do not handle if at all possible. If pulled up, use gloves and do not put in compost heap or the seeds may come back to haunt you. Dispose in plastic bag in the garbage.