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.
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.
From above the alternate and linear nature of the leaves is obvious.
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.
Every year we see what appears to be yellow-green flowers at the roadside right next to a small cemetery. These curious plants come up every year on the slope of the hill going up to the cemetery.
I finally stopped to take a closer look this May. The yellow-green flowers cluster at the top of the stem.
The many linear leaves alternating up the stout stem are characteristic of Cypress Spurge, Euphorbia cyparissias. Just underneath the flower cluster is a whorl of slightly longer leaves.
Note the many stem leaves and whorl of leaves at the base of most of the flower stems.
What appears to be yellowish-green petals tied at their bases are actually bracts. The flowers have no petals or sepals and are very small, less than 1/4 inch wide.
A roadside alien from the Spurge Family, Euphorbiaceae, Cypress Spurge grows in waste areas, such as roadsides, vacant lots, and in this case, near a cemetery. I found it curious that Peterson’s Wildflower Guide mentioned cemeteries specifically as one of the places this spurge plant grows. It turns out that Cypress Spurge is actually referred to as Graveyard Weed because it often occurs in country graveyards.
Cypress Spurge is considered by three states to be undesirable. It’s prohibited in Massachusetts, listed as potentially invasive and banned in Connecticut, and it’s on the noxious weed list for Colorado.
On March 31st the Round-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica americana, were blooming strong. I counted 13 hepatica plants on the south east quad, west and south of the original found plant at the moss-covered skinny log. I think I may have been in the woods at the right time to see so many plants. All it takes is a little wind for the oak leaves to cover up the hepatica and hide it from us, so make sure to look well among the leaf litter for it.
The previous two days were cloudy, overcast, windy and rainy. The delicate forest flowers must need at least a little sun to coax their blooms out of hiding. After all, they only bloom once in a year and when they do bloom it’s during the time when there are no leaves on the trees.
Leaf buds are pushing a little on a few trees, like the cherry trees and lilacs, but for the most part the scenery is still drab shades of gray and brown accented with flowering forsythia and star magnolia.
White flowers are opening up on this round-lobed hepatica. It’s an older plant with at least seven leaves and as many flowers. (Click images to see larger view.) Note that the petals are shorter than the bracts under the flower head. Young petals are smaller than the bracts. As the flower matures the sepals get larger until they are about the same length as the bracts.
The true colors of the two blossoms above are pale blue. The waxy surface of the leaves can be seen here as a shiny surface.
In real life the flowers were a much deeper blue to purple color, but the sunlight – and a flash on the closeup images – washed out the color. The afternoon sun shone on the hepatica flowers softly, but the images from my little digital Olympus were overexposed. Can’t wait to get a manual everything camera.
Closeup of light purple round-lobed hepatica flowers. This plant grew at the base of a big oak tree, so it was easy to find it again. Use landmarks around you to re-locate plants that you want to observe throughout the year.
This older hepatica plant, as noted by the many leaves and flowers, has a set of smaller, upright leaves. The upright leaves are not rounded on the edges, but rather pointed or angular and about the same size as the flowers.
Closeup of smaller, upright leaves shows they are taller than the flowers. Why are these leaves held upright? Are they young versions of the mature leaves that overwinter or do they have a different purpose? Several of these smaller leaves are deformed or have been nibbled on. Not many of the larger, rounded leaves are so deformed, but there are a few leaves that are torn or damaged that survive from year to year. Perhaps mammals of the forests that browse on the small leaves help to pollinate hepatica.
Here, we see that ants are likely pollinators of round-lobed hepatica. Note the fuzzy appearance of the flower stems and the tight anthers on the cream-colored stamens that stick out like little lights.
Flowers don’t all blossom at one time. In the image above there are two fully-developed flowers with their petals held out flat, one flower about to open, two with bent heads and flower stalks almost tall enough, and one with a short flower stalk and tighter flower bud. Note the hairy stems and bracts. The hairs are quite long in places, making the flower heads and stems appear fuzzy.
Leaves are hairy as well. Older leaves may lose some of the hairs, which are not as long as the hairs on the flower stems.
When you’re taking a walk in the woods searching for hepatica and other Spring ephemeral flowers, stop every now and then and scan the leaf litter all around you. Look for any bit of green on the forest floor and if there is a well-rounded edge to the leaf inspect it a little closer.
At times you will find the flower poking its head above the leaf litter while the leaves that have overwintered are still under cover. This has led to some field guides to state that hepatica flowers will appear before the leaves do. Actually, the leaves are there too, just not completely visible.
Typical view of hepatica with the flowers sticking above the leaf litter and the leaves hidden below the oak leaves.
Three bracts underneath the flower heads are either green or maroon, hairy, and rounded at the tips.
This plant has two flowers in the bud stage and a young opened flower that appears to be supported by the three maroon bracts beneath the open flower head.
Not all hepatica plants were flowering on this day. I suppose they don’t flower each and every year, or perhaps those without flowers had already bloomed. At the most the plants that I saw had two blossoms full out per plant, some had only one or no flower – at that particular time. A couple plants had already flowered and dropped their petals, while more blossoms are yet to fill out.