July 2017

Summertime is the season of family vacations and road trips to see new sites and experience things out of our regular routine. Perhaps the newness and first time encounter makes the memories sweeter. Pictures help etch the memory for later retrieval. I am an observer of nature during these trips noticing the trees, animals (even road kill), and plants alongside the road. Today I want to share some the flowering wild plants dotting the wild areas off the pavement but still plainly visible showing off their colors and blossoms for all to see from the windshield or bravely photographed from a pull-off area.

queen anne's lace

Queen Anne’s Lace, (Daucus carota) is a common sight in fields and roadsides. It is a wild carrot in the parsley family. The orange carrot we grow and eat is a subspecies derived from this wild plant, native to Europe and Asia. Queen Anne’s Lace root is edible, best eaten when young as the root becomes woody as it ages. The many tiny, white flowers are clustered together making an umbrella shaped unit atop a stem up to three feet high. Pollinating insects are attracted to the nectar provided by the multi-flowered perennial.

bouncing bet

Bouncing Bet, C.Quish photo

Bouncing Bet, (Saponaria officinalis), is a perennial native to Europe and Asia, also, but has become naturalized here in the U.S. Sapo from the Latin name means soap, referring to its root used to cleanse. Rubbing the roots will result in a foaming action.

early golden rod

Early Golden Rod, C.Quish photo

Early Goldenrod, (Solidago juncea), is one of the many different species of native goldenrods in the Northeast. As its name states, it blooms early and is the about the first to shows it yellow-orange flowers. Goldenrods are incredibly attractive to many insect due to its heavy pollen and nectar production. Goldenrods take an uncalled for hit with allergy sufferers when people blame this brightly flowered plant for hay fever, when in fact; its pollen does not provoke or cause allergies. Some people are highly allergic to ragweed pollen which blooms at the same time, but with a fairly unnoticeable flower, so the showy goldenrod is blamed.


St. John’s Wort, (Hypericum perforatum), is a native perennial about 18 inches tall, with yellow flowers, five-petaled flowers with many noticeable stamens. Antidepressant medication is made from chemicals extracted from this plant. St. John’s Wort can be weedy as it reproduces from seed and spreads via rhizomes.

Fleabane 2

Fleabane, C.Quish photo


Fleabane, C.Quish photo

Fleabane, (Erigeron sp.), is the common name of many daisy flowered plants. The genus Erigeron has numerous species which are difficult to tell apart. There are annual, biennial and perennial ones. One thing they all have in common is the ability to repel fleas, hence the name. Previous generations ago folks dried the leaves for scattering in the living spaces.

squash beetle

Squash Beetle on Squash Leaf

squash beetle eggs and squash bug eggs

Squash Bug eggs(reddish) and Squash Beetle eggs(yellow) on the same leaf.

Upon returning home and to my vegetable garden neglected for a week, the yellow squash plants have new occupants trying to set up housekeeping. I found one squash beetle adult feeding on the leaves and her mass of yellow eggs on the underside of the leaf. I also found a group of brick colored eggs on the same leaf. These were of the squash bug. Both the beetle and egg masses were squashed, (pun intended)! If squishing insects and eggs are not to your liking, wrapping duct tape around your hand, sticky side out and patting the egg masses will easily remove them. Toss in the garbage when done.

cows 4

UConn Cows, working on the ice cream ingredients.

Once vacation is over, these beauties are another form easily spotted on my daily commute. I do notice them each day and they never cease to make me smile, just by their mere presence.

-Carol Quish


hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree

July in Connecticut is an exciting time for me because of all the good wildflowers and insects that abound at this time of year. Insects get more interesting in summer and late summer, especially caterpillars that feed on older leaves. Plus, many birds have fledged their first brood by now, so the young birds are scattering around keeping their parents busy. Flowering trees are few, but in July sumacs, tree-of-heaven and the hardy silk tree bloom from mid to late July.

black walnuts July 2017
Black walnut dropped fruit in July


While July is hot and sometimes dry, we have had an abundance of rain so far this year. This is a really good thing because the gypsy moth caterpillars severely defoliated many trees that now need rainfall to help put out new leaves before autumn. We hope next year will have less of these pests, especially since many of the caterpillars were killed by either a fungus or a virus.

bittersweet doing well

Bittersweet decorating a truck

Wildflowers like early goldenrod, swamp milkweed, bouncing bet, monkeyflower and nodding ladies tresses are in bloom now. And the peculiar Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, has popped up, especially under white pines. It occurs in rich, damp forests where there is abundant leaf litter. While this plant may appear to be a fungus due to its white color due to a lack of chlorophyll, it is not. It survives in a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. Blue curls are an interesting wild flower that can form colonies in sandy, infertile soils. Bloom time is normally late July through mid- August. Check out damps areas for stands of swamp milkweed- one of the prettier of the milkweeds, to me. All kinds of butterflies and bees may be seen getting nectar from its flowers.


indian pipe

Indian pipe

blue curls Main st power lines August 5, 2012

Blue curls


This year Eastern red cedars have put out a bumper crop of fruit, unlike the dismal amount of blue berries produced last year. This is good news for migrating birds like the yellow-rumped warblers that rely of this food as they fly south. And, of course, the cedar waxwings that derived their name from their fondness for cedar fruit, will enjoy any fruit that remains after the migrators have departed.

cedar waxwing fledgling

cedar waxwing just out of the nest

Monarch caterpillars have been spotted, some in later instars, so that is good news for this favorite butterfly. Swallowtail caterpillars are also in later instars, and will have a second generation of butterflies later this summer. Check out small aspens for the caterpillar of the viceroy butterfly. This bird- dropping mimic will win no beauty contests, perhaps, but it is a good find nevertheless. Sphinx and many other moths are flying now, and bats are enjoying them during their night forays. Some of the geometers, or inchworms, have very pretty moths to make up for the drab larval stage.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth

If anyone had their Joe-pye weed leaves chewed badly, it may have been the work of large populations of dusky groundling caterpillars. They are done feeding now, but keep an eye out next year if you had this problem. And aphid populations swell at this time of year as females give birth to live young by the truckloads. Sunflowers and milkweeds are just two of the plants that can have aphid populations that are very high.

dusky groundling joepye

Dgroundling on Joe-pye

Enjoy yourselves out there in the garden, park, or wilds. Look up and down and all around, for things of interest that abound this time of year. And listen for the katydids as they start singing during the hot, summer nights.

Conehead katydid neoconocephalus ssp.

Conehead katydid


Pamm Cooper



IMG_20170702_114322695One of the best things about summer in Connecticut is the easy drive to the Connecticut shore as almost any point in Connecticut is no more than a 1 ½ hour drive to the Long Island Sound. Although Connecticut is the third smallest state area-wise (5543² miles) we are ranked either 17th or 20th in total ocean coastline. The 20th ranking is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which includes tidal inlets and the Great Lakes in its calculations. Our 17th place ranking says that we have 96 miles of coastline while the 20th place gives us a grand total of 618 miles. In fact, if every citizen of Connecticut stood very close (and held our babies and toddlers) we could all stand along that 618-mile coastline! I must admit, as we walked along Sound View Beach over the 4th of July weekend it felt as if that scenario was taking place.

But walking a little further away from the sea of humanity is when the real appeal of the Connecticut shore happens for me. The diversity of the plants and vegetation that can be encountered never ceases to amaze me. Even though hydrangeas grow all over Connecticut, including in our yard in Enfield, they never seem as deeply blue as they do when there is a touch of salt in the air…


…the honeysuckle smells sweeter…

Honeysuckle 2

…and the beach rose hips are the size of cherry tomatoes!


The Connecticut coastal region has a longer frost-free season than most of the state of Connecticut, 15-35 days longer depending on where you live. I would love an extra 35 days of growing time for my gardens but I don’t know if I would be willing to exchange those extra days just to worry about the salinity tolerance of my plants, sandy soils that may drain too quickly, or high winds. Those are all a part of the ecoregion along the Connecticut shore and each of those factors play a part in selecting plants for landscaping in that area.


Salt can affect and potentially kill shoreline plants in two ways; either through salt spray that can damage leaves and plant tissues or through groundwater where salt water is brought in on daily tides. Where the groundwater is highly concentrated with salt water plant tissues can be damaged as with salt spray but additionally they will suffer with water uptake issues. When the concentrations of salt in the soil surrounding the roots of a plant become too high the plant may be forced to accumulate salts in its root cells to compensate for the higher levels outside. Expending energy to facilitate these functions means less energy will be directed toward the growth and vigor of the plant, sometimes causing the roots to go dormant, and resulting in a poor or stunted appearance.

Have you ever noticed how plantings along the shore seem to almost hug the ground? When salt is dissolved in water it separates into equal ratios of its two ions: sodium and chloride. It is the build-up of chloride ions in plant tissues such as the stems and leaves that will present as browned, bronzed, or ‘scorched’, leaf edges.


Even the slope of the land or whether there is a sea wall present will influence the amount of salt damage that can occur. Within the same property or area several different salinity levels may be present as plants that are on the lower end of a slope may receive twice-daily infiltrations of seawater at high tide. And an area that slopes up will be more affected by salt spray. In fact, unlike the effect of elevated levels of salt in groundwater which tend to be localized, salt spray can reach plants several miles inland.

Fortunately, many species of plants that are native to Connecticut have developed the ability to thrive in these conditions and are categorized as highly salt tolerant, moderately tolerant, and least tolerant. Using plants that are highly tolerant as a buffer to shield less tolerant plants from salt spray, winds, or that simply increase the distance from areas of salty groundwater is a good option. The Connecticut Coastal Planting Guide from Connecticut Sea Grant/UConn has a great listing of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and groundcovers and their salt tolerance levels. Our recent trip to the shore showed some wonderful examples.

IMG_20170711_112627268   Sassafras

Mountain Laurel     IMG_20170711_115224655_HDR

IMG_20170711_113134395   Viburnum

Trumpet creeper           IMG_20170711_182901348_HDR

Through UConn, the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources has a resource that, through a step-by-step process, will help you prepare your site and choose plants that will have a better chance of survival in the coastal environment, prevent erosion, and provide needed food and protection to coastal wildlife such as this great white heron.

Susan Pelton

All images and videos by Susan Pelton 2017

mullein.greenway.jallen  Photo: J. Allen, UConn


Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is, well, common around here.  Right now it’s in its glory, with spikes of yellow flowers standing tall along roadsides and in other open areas.  I really thought this was a native plant, and when I spotted them along this paved trail in central Connecticut and decided to snap a few pics and do a blog on it this week, the idea was to share info on an interesting but often overlooked native.  As usual, I started reading up on it prior to writing and discovered that it’s not native to North America at all. This plants’ native range includes Europe, northern Africa and Asia.  It was introduced in North America very early in the 18th century and by the early 1800s it was widespread and reported as far west as Michigan in 1839 and California in 1876.  Today it is found in all 50 states and much of Canada.

A couple of states, Colorado and Hawaii, list it as a noxious weed. In most cases, common mullein is not considered an important agricultural weed.  This is because it does not compete well with other plants for establishment and is also not tolerant of tilling.  Seed germination occurs on pretty much bare soil, so disturbed areas are ideal sites for colonization.  Speaking of the seeds, they are impressive!!  One notable characteristic having to do with the seeds is the number of them produced by a single plant: 100,000-240,000 of them in a single season (number varies by reference)!  Not only are seeds produced in massive quantities, they can also remain viable and dormant in the soil for over 100 years.  This means that where this plant grows, a huge seed bank can rapidly accumulate.

First year rosette by John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Common mullein is a biennial plant that produces a large rosette of low-growing leaves in the first year and a single tall flower spike in the second year. Rosette leaves can be up to a foot long and are quite fuzzy.  Leaves on the lower part of the flower stalk are attached (no petiole), alternate and decrease in size towards the top.  Flowers are yellow, stalkless, one inch across, and have five fused petals.  Each flower only blooms for one day.  Flowers are produced on the stalk from June through August, or in some areas, September.  Seed capsules are fuzzy and split open at maturity to release as many as 700 or more seeds each.  Most of the seeds fall to the ground within a short distance of the parent plant but some are dispersed by animals, soil movement, etc. Very few animals are known to feed on the seeds, even birds, because they are so tiny.

mullein.flower.jallen  Flower close-up with Syrphid fly. J. Allen, UConn

This plant is a mixed blessing when it comes to the insects that it attracts. Some of them are pests that will also feed on plants in the garden or on the farm.  These include tarnished plant bug and spider mites. Others, though, like the Syrphid fly shown in the photo, are beneficial.  The larvae of the Syrphid fly are predators and will feed on aphids and other tiny, soft-bodied insects.

The reason this plant was introduced into the United States, and probably other areas of the world, is because it has well-documented medicinal uses. Disclaimer: This blog does not advocate the use of plants for these purposes unless a doctor is consulted. Because common mullein was introduced to the U.S. so early, it’s not known whether it was mostly shared with European settlers by Native Americans or the other way around.  A very early record of medicinal use was from Dioscorides about 2000 years ago for treatment of pulmonary diseases, especially coughs. Chemicals in the plant (and tea made from it) include expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage.  Any tea or extract made for the plant needs to be filtered well to remove the hairs that can cause irritation.  Leaves have also been smoked for pulmonary problems.

Some groups have also used a poultice from common mullein for treatment of skin conditions including sores, rashes, warts, hemorrhoids and more. Oil from the flowers has a history of use for many external issues, too.

Other interesting uses for the plant include piscicides (fish killing compounds), shoe insulation, candle wicks, and torches (made from the flower stalk by dipping into suet or wax). Piscicides have been widely used through history for fishing (the toxic chemicals in this case are from the seeds).  The flowers can be used as a source of natural yellow or green dye.

While not planted much in gardens, seeds are reported to be available from a few vendors. Because of the persistence of the seeds, it can be hard to get rid of when needed.  The best method is hand pulling but herbicides can also be used.  This will require some persistence due to the longevity of the seeds left behind.

To finish up, I’ll share some of the other, sometimes fun, common names of this plant: great mullein (commonly used in Europe), cowboy toilet paper (western U.S.), flannel mullein, velvet dock, woolly mullein, and in the 19th century U.S. Indian rag weed, hare’s beard, ice-leaf, blanket mullein, poor man’s blanket, shepherd’s club, feltwort, and Moses’ blanket.

J. Allen


Hot summer weather has many of us seeking tasty relief at their local ice cream parlors. Despite a dizzying array of flavors, plain old vanilla ranks high in popularity. Natural vanilla flavoring comes from vanilla beans which are produced in pods by an orchid. Most of the world’s vanilla beans are grown in Madagascar. This past year saw a shortage of vanilla beans from that country which is why you may have noticed the price of real vanilla extract at the stores has increased.

vanilla bean

Vanilla beans by dpettinelli, UConn

If you are looking for some calorie-free ways to enjoy the delicious scent of vanilla, look no further than the garden. A number of plants have a luscious vanilla scents include annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and vines. Do keep in mind that fragrances take on a personal tone so what some might perceive as vanilla, others may detect a slightly different odor.

Most popular as well as easy to find are heliotropes (Heliotropium arborescens). These annual plants mostly found in shades of purple have large clusters of vanilla-scented flowers. They can be used as bedding plants but many find their way into containers placed near entranceways or on decks where their delicious fragrance can be repeatedly enjoyed. Plants grow about a foot tall. I think the white flowering form has a stronger vanilla scent than the purple but it is harder to find.

Heliotrope Nagano

Heliotropes bloom all summer and are great in containers. By dpettinelli, UConn

Years ago when working at Old Sturbridge Village, we tended a collection of scented geraniums including apple, coconut, nutmeg, lemon, peppermint and vanilla. With geraniums, it is the leaves that carries the delightful scents. French vanilla geraniums have small sprays of white flowers and work well in containers in full sun.

Another plant grown at OSV was mignonette (Reseda odorata). Flowers are rather inconspicuous with small creamy whitish blossoms but their fragrance is a heavenly raspberry vanilla. I have never seen this annual for sale at garden centers but it is easy to start this plant from seed.

Although technical a valerian (Valeriana officinalis), the white flower clusters of the often called garden heliotrope are attractive to pollinators and people alike. It is blooming right now. This hardy perennial gets about 3 feet tall in my garden but would probably grow taller if in a more moister situation. The leaves are toothed and pinnate. It spreads slowly if happy and is native to Europe and western Asia.


Valerian, sometimes referred to as garden heliotrope by dpettinelli, UConn.

Many are familiar with our native Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) as a good wildlife plant as well as useful cut flower but have you stopped and smelled it. A soft vanilla fragrance is emitted upon close inspection (or should I say sniffing!). Plants reach 4 to 5 feet tall and enjoy moist soils in full sun. Plants are hardy to zone 4 and flowers are arranged in large clusters in shades of mauves and pinks.

While most dianthus have a spicy scent, ‘Itsaul White’ (Dianthus plumarius) smells like vanilla. Pure white, fringed, semi-double flowers attract butterflies. While the plant only blooms from late spring to early summer, the silvery blue foliage remains attractive all season long. Plants are compact reaching only 12 inches high and are hardy to zone 3.

Clematis montana selections are vigorous, vines reaching 20 to 30 feet. They are spring blooming but have a light, delightful vanilla fragrance. Look for the white flowered, ‘Grandiflora’, pink-flowered ‘Elizabeth’ or ‘Mayleen’ These plants are very attractive grown on a fence or over a trellis. For abundant flowering, plant them in full sun with their roots shaded through the use of mulch or plantings positioned behind other fuller but low plant selections.

clematis LR

Clematis montana by L Rivers

The name ‘Vanilla Spice’ should clue you in that this selection of summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is especially aromatic. Plants grow up to 6 feet tall and wide and have larger white flowers than the species which is native to many east coast states. Usually this shrub is found in moist locations and it prefers our native, slightly acidic soils. ‘Hummingbird’ is a dwarf selection reaching only 2 feet tall while ‘Ruby Spice’ is a full-sized plant with deep pink flowers. Blooms occur in late summer and are always covered with bees and other pollinators.

Clethra 8-03-08

Clethra alnifolia by dpettinelli, UConn

Native to Korea, the white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) is a small shrub, about 4 feet tall. Rather unassuming, the pale pink buds open to mostly white, lightly vanilla scented flowers in early spring. It is a very undemanding plant tolerating a wide variety or soil conditions and hardy to zone 5. Plant white forsythia in full sun to part shade.

Visiting the Grand Canyon last November, our tour guide brought us to some old copper mines now surrounded by ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa). It was a warm November day and he had us all smell the reddish crackly bark of these tall, magnificent trees. They smelled just like vanilla flavored, fresh baked sugar cookies. I remember that Jeffrey pines (P. jeffreyi) in Oregon had a similar scent. Both are quite sizeable trees but they are hardy in this area.

Plants are grown for many reasons but maybe one consideration when selecting some for your garden might be their scent. So be sure to smell the flowers and you can bask in their scents making pulling weeds and putting down mulch much more pleasant tasks.

Happy 4th! Dawn P.