Blooming Anise Hyssop Attracts Bees and Butterflies

Anise Hyssop or Giant Blue Hyssop has been blooming at the edge of our garden for a couple of weeks now.

This purple-flowering plant is native to the American plains, but we have found out that it grows quite well in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania.

The blooms are pretty spikes of purple that grow longer as the plant blooms for a few weeks time. That’s a nice thing about anise hyssop in that the blooms are long lasting.

Anise Hyssop in full bloom will attract bees and butterflies.
Anise Hyssop in full bloom will attract bees and butterflies.

Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers like crazy. Standing near the hyssop one can hear the buzzing of the bees that visit constantly. We’ve seen several kinds of butterflies and hummingbirds visit the blossoms as well.

The leaves smell of anise and can be used to make a tasty tea that is sweet enough to not require sugar or honey!

All-in-all Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, is one nice garden plant because it attracts pollinators, provides beautiful flowers to look at and leaves for tea, and it’s a perennial too!

Wild Pink Flowers on the Hillsides

Wild Pink would make a nice addition to any garden. It’s low to the ground and the flowers are a delightful light pink color.

Who says pink isn’t a natural color?

Wild Pink, Silene caroliniana, looks similar to a common garden plant called moss phlox. Moss phlox, Phlox subulata, is popular in gardens and you’ll see it planted around houses as it’s a popular landscaping plant that flowers in neon-bright colors.

By the way during the month of May you can see a great display of a tall Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata, at Shenk’s Ferry.

Wild pink flowers range in color from the lightest pink, almost white, to a dark pink. Flowering in the middle of May most of the flowers are light pink in color.

These wild pink flowers are such a light pink they're nearly white.
These wild pink flowers are such a light pink they’re nearly white.
Wild pink flowers in a dark shade of pink.
Wild pink flowers in a dark shade of pink.

The whole plant will get only a few inches tall. The photo above shows the flower stalk reaching about 5 inches high, a little taller than the leaves.

Read moreWild Pink Flowers on the Hillsides

Smooth Solomon’s Seal Blooms in Pairs

A favorite woodlands plant that we have growing on our mountain ridge is called Smooth Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum. It grows only in wooded areas and it blooms in the middle of Spring, followed by large blue berries in Autumn.

Solomon’s Seal has one long arching stem that supports its linear and pointed leaves. Each leaf grasps the main stem at the base and graduates into a fine point at the end. Linear leaf veins that extend the length of the leaves show this plant to be of the monocot lineage.

Smooth Solomon's Seal blooming in a Pennsylvanian forest.
Smooth Solomon's Seal blooming in a Pennsylvanian forest. Photo taken 11 May 2012.

Flowers of Solomon’s Seal usually dangle in pairs, but sometimes there is only one bloom at a leaf node or leaf axil. The cream-colored, bell-shaped flowers dangle from the main stem and sway with the breezes of Spring.

(Click any photo to see a larger image.)

Flowers of Smooth Solomon's Seal dangle in pairs from leaf axils.
Flowers of Smooth Solomon's Seal dangle in pairs from leaf axils. Photo taken 11 May 2012.

In the photo above note how the linear leaves sheath or grasp the main stem.

If you’re not sure what species of Solomon’s Seal you’re looking at, check out previous posts on wildeherb.com for a little help on the different types of Solomon’s Seal, late spring blooming Solomon’s Seal, and the blue berries of Solomon’s Seal.

Ground Cherries Sweet Little Husk Tomatoes In A Paper Shell

An Amish man shared a new vegetable with us a few years ago. We were at a farmer’s market appreciating the colorful selection of peppers and tomatoes when we came across something we had never seen.

(Photos taken 31 August 2011. Click on any picture to see a larger image.)

Paper sheaths the husk tomatoes.
Paper sheaths the husk tomatoes.

This new fruit was like a small Chinese paper lantern with a very small yellow tomato inside. The little round fruit is like a tomato about the size of a large pea. Just pull back the edges of the papery shell and eat the fruit or pluck it off the stem. Put the paper sheath and stem in your compost bin.

Peel back the paper husk to reveal the tiny yellow tomato.
Peel back the paper husk to reveal the tiny yellow tomato. The yellow fruits on the left are ready to eat, but the greenish ones on the right should get a little riper first.

Ground cherry is the right name for these little fruits because the taste is surprisingly sweet. They’re sweet enough that the little yellow fruits are often used to make jams, jellies and pies.

Ground Cherries are also called Husk-Tomatoes. We bought a couple of plants a few years ago for the garden. They’ve dropped seeds every year since and come back to produce an abundance of fruit. It’s important to have more than one plant for fruit production, so make sure that you grow two or more plants. The individual plants don’t self-fertilize so with only one plant there is little hope of fruiting.

Husk tomatoes on the vine.
Husk tomatoes on the vine. Note the single flower, the outline of the leaves, and the green color of the paper shell.
Close-up showing the husk tomato paper sheath, light-colored bell-shaped flower with a dark center, and overall fuzziness of the plant.
Close-up showing the husk tomato paper sheath, light-colored bell-shaped flower with a dark center, and overall fuzziness of the plant.

Our variety is an Amish heirloom type that was simply labeled as ground cherry (husk tomato). There are over a dozen species of Physalis native to Northeast USA, so it’s hard to say exactly which species we have. It may be the Strawberry-Tomato, Physalis pruinosa, judging by the leaf shape with scalloped edges and a heart-shaped base, and mature fruit that is yellow. Other varieties include ones that have more or less downy or hairy stems and fruit that may be reddish or purple in color in addition to the yellow that ours gives. Take caution: the green unripe fruit is poisonous.

Leaves are scalloped with irregular teeth and often have a heart-shaped based, but not always.
Leaves are scalloped with irregular teeth and often have a heart-shaped based, but not always. Stem ribbing is purple and the leaves are a lighter green on the underside.

The plant will often drop fruit before it’s ripe, but the fruit will ripen on the ground inside its protective husk. The paper husk turns from green to yellow to tan as the fruit ripens. Sometimes you’ll see the paper of the husk getting thin, but the fruit will have been protected for many days and most likely still fine to eat. If left too long, the insects will find it or the seeds will re-emerge as next season’s plants.

In central Pennsylvania we get to enjoy the harvest of husk tomatoes from August through September and part of October until the frost comes.

If anyone wants some husk tomato seeds or ground cherry seeds, we have some to exchange or via paypal. Contact wilde at wildeherb dot com.

Butterfly Weed Flowers in Brilliant Orange

Orange flowers are not as common in nature as white, yellow, red or purple ones. When you come across some brilliant orange blossoms, you definitely take notice. Brilliant flowers of the Butterfly Weed are easily seen in summertime fields of weeds. Even if the grass gets as tall as this native plant the flowers can be seen from a distance because of their bright orange color.

Butterfly Weed in the lawn is protected from the mower with a wire cage.
Butterfly Weed in the lawn is protected from the mower with a wire cage. Photo taken 13 July 2011.

The Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is related to the common milkweed. You can see similarities in the leaves and flowers of these two members of the Milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae.

Oblong leaves alternate up the stiff mainstem of the foot and a half tall plant. Most milkweeds have opposite leaves or leaves in whorls. Stems are hairy. When broken the stems release a clear juice, not milky like other milkweeds.

Oval hairy leaves of butterfly-weed alternate up its hairy stem.
Oval hairy leaves of butterfly-weed alternate up its hairy stem. Photo taken 13 July 2011.

The flower structure is unique to milkweeds. Milkweed flowers occur in loose umbels at the top of the plant. Five downward-pointing petals flare out below a five-pointed crown. The crown has five tips that connect to the united internal flower parts made up of stamens and stigma.

A closer look at the orange flowers of Butterfly Weed.
A closer look at the orange flowers of Butterfly Weed. Photo taken 13 July 2011

Seeds are held in elongated pods about 4-5 inches in length. Individual seeds are connected to feathery fluff that helps the seeds spread with the wind.

If you’re lucky enough to find this beautiful perennial plant, take home a few seed pods instead of digging up the whole plant. It has a long tap root, so it would be difficult to get the whole root for transplanting it successfully.

Butterfly-weed is a nice addition to any sunny flower garden, and as its name suggests it will draw butterflies to the area.

An alternate name for butterfly-weed is Pleurisy Root because Native Americans chewed the root for lung inflammations and bronchitis. Although the root has laxative, diuretic and expectorant qualities, it may be toxic in large doses, so it is not recommended to consume this pretty weed.

Cow Wheat Native Woodland Plant

A delicate looking plant that blooms in the woodlands during the first half of July is called Cow Wheat, Melampyrum lineare. It’s a member of the Figwort or Snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae.

Singular stem branches into several stems with opposite leaves.
Singular stem branches into several stems with opposite leaves. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

The opposite leaves are lance-shaped, entire, smooth and 2 to 3 inches long near the base of the plant. Leaves near the stem tips are shorter and have long, pointed projections at their bases.

(Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Upper leaves near the white and yellow flowers have pointed projections at their bases.
Upper leaves near the white and yellow flowers have pointed projections at their bases. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

Flowers rise on short stalks in the leaf axils near the stem tips. Tubular, two lipped flowers are white and yellow. The upper lip is two-parted and white. The lower lip is three-parted and yellow. The lips are joined into a tubular flower that appear to be white on the outside and yellow on the inside, or tipped with yellow. The whole flower is about half an inch long.

Apparently, there are no edible nor medicinal qualities to cow-wheat. The Peterson Guide to Wildflowers describes it as a “smooth, parasitic plant”, but did not indicate what it parasitizes. The roots of trees, I suppose.

In Pennsylvania you’ll probably only see this plant in the mountains as it is native from Canada south to northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, northern New England and eastern Maine. The several cow-wheat plants observed here were growing on a mountain ridge in south-central PA.

Spotted Wintergreen An Evergreen Woodland Herb

One of the flowers that I look for each summer in our woodlands is called Spotted Wintergreen. It’s a low-growing, native perennial with evergreen leaves.

Spotted wintergreen blooming from established foliage.
Spotted wintergreen blooming from established foliage. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

Spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, has thick, tapering evergreen leaves. Its leaves can be found all year long, sometimes hidden by the leaf litter. A pale streak runs down the middle of each leaf, which tells of its alternate name, Striped Wintergreen. New growth is light green, while that which has overwintered is a dark green.

Two or three basal leaves underlie a whorl of three pointed leaves. A reddish-purple flower stem rises from the center of the whorl of leaves and ends with one to three upside-down flowers. The nodding flowers might look like miniature street lamps, where the stem rises up and curls over to support each downward-pointing blossom. The whole plant is only 4 to 10 inches tall.

Side view of flowering spotted wintergreen.
Side view of flowering spotted wintergreen. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

New growth comes up from underground runners and the new foliage is a much lighter green than the older leaves.

The stems are very stiff, and since the flower is so low to the ground it had to be turned sideways to see the center of the blossom.

Unusual arrangement of stamens in the downward hanging flowers.
Unusual arrangement of stamens in the downward hanging flowers. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
Pale midribs on leaves of spotted wintergreen.
Pale midribs on leaves of spotted wintergreen. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
Spotted wintergreen blooming underneath a white pine tree.
Spotted wintergreen blooming underneath a white pine tree. Photo taken 4 July 2011.
Looking down on two blooms of spotted wintergreen and some fallen petals from a third blossom.
Looking down on two blooms of spotted wintergreen and some fallen petals from a third blossom. Photo taken 4 July 2011.
Closeup side-view of spotted wintergreen flowers.
Closeup side-view of spotted wintergreen flowers. Photo taken 4 July 2011

Wintergreen Bells Open for Teaberry Blooms

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, is also called Checkerberry or Teaberry. You might be familiar with Teaberry Gum or Teaberry Ice Cream – well, the flavor comes from wintergreen. It’s a low-growing plant that can be found in woodlands, especially in northern areas of the eastern US and Canada, and in the mountains toward the south. It’s a member of the Heath family, Ericaceae.

The evergreen leaves of wintergreen are thick and leathery, shiny ovals. New growth appears in a light green and the older growth that has overwintered may have shades of purple. Damage to the slightly toothed leaves can be seen on many plants, but they still seem to function ok.

Wintergreen is a perennial woodland plant. The plants are found in colonies. Stems rise up from underground runners that creep along, so several “plants” found together are really several branches from a common underground stem.

A cluster of wintergreen plants.
A cluster of wintergreen plants. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

Wintergreen flowers are small, drooping egg shapes before they open into bells that are reminiscent of huckleberry or blueberry blossoms. Each flower hangs from a leaf axil, usually one per leaf. The blooming period is late June through July.

Dangling white flowers of wintergreen are spotted with pink.
Dangling white flowers of wintergreen are spotted with pink. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
Sometimes the leaves and flowers of wintergreen are obscured by the leaf litter.
Sometimes the leaves and flowers of wintergreen are obscured by the leaf litter. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

The white and pink dangling wintergreen flowers are lightly fragrant, as are the leaves and fruit. The leaves taste of wintergreen and have been used in making tea.

Teaberry in bloom.
Teaberry in bloom. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
The smallest blooming wintergreen plant measures less than two inches across.
The smallest blooming wintergreen plant measures less than two inches across. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

Red, round wintergreen fruits will develop in the fall, some of which will overwinter and still be seen in the springtime.