Wildflowers


bloodroot (2)

Bloodroot

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still…”

Robert Frost

After an extremely dry 2016, spring is already bringing abundant showers here in Connecticut. Vernal pools in most areas have reached their full capacity of rainwater and snow melt. Streams are running strong and ponds that were so low last year are filling up. The warm February weather almost tricked some plants into budding out too early, but the snow and cold that came in early March nipped that process in the bud. Phoebes who had returned in early March were greeted with a foot of snow and freezing temperatures. But they survived. Now we are seeing April return once again, and with it should follow the heralds of warmer weather and longer days.

trout lilies Pamm Cooper photo

Trout lilies in open woods in April

Native willows and maples, such as the red maples, are blooming now and early native bees are availing themselves of the pollen and nectar they provide. Colletes inaequalis– small, handsome ground-nesting bees- are emerging from their winter pupation homes in the soil, where they have lived all their pre-adult lives. They are important pollinators of many early- flowering native plants and often form large colonies in open areas of lawns with sandy soils. They seldom sting, and by the time grass is mowed for the first time, these bees are usually no longer flying in lawn areas. Females dug holes, bring in pollen and nectar they put in a “cellophane “ bag they make, and lay an egg on top. The larva feed on that supply until they pupate, and will emerge as adults the next spring. Queen bumblebees should be out and about any time now as well.

Colletes inaequalis bee covered in pollen- willow 4-3-2017

Native Colletes inaequalis bee foraging on a willow flower

Spring peepers, out in late February for about a day just prior to a snow and freeze, have been giving a nightly chorus now for a couple of weeks. Wood frogs are singing and should be laying eggs any time now, along with spotted salamanders and the American toads.  Check out vernal pools for the floating egg masses of the wood frogs and the rounded masses of the salamander eggs stuck to twigs, stems and leaves under the water surface.

vernal pool reflections in April Pamm Cooper photo copyright 2017

Reflections on a vernal pool- with wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and young spotted salamander larvae swimming on right

Red trillium, Trillium erectum, should bloom around mid- April, if not before.  Tiny bluets, bloodroot and trout lilies also bloom April to May here. Bluets are also an important source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators and spring- flying butterflies such as the spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dead nettles bloom by late April and receive visits from nay pollinators including honeybees, bumble bees and other native bees, syrphid and other flies and some butterflies.

Red trillium April Pamm Cooper photo

Red trillium

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs for a while, and the one that sings the most- all day- is the song sparrow. Males sit on the tops of small trees and shrubs, singing to announce their territory and to find a mate. The wood ducks are here now. Look for them in woodland ponds where there is good cover from shrubs and small trees along the water’s edge. These are very shy ducks and often take flight at the tiniest snap of a twig, so stealthy moves and quiet are the way to see them. Check out the trail behind the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park in late April. You may get to see small flocks of glossy ibis in the salt marsh area as they migrate through on their way north.

song sparrow april 13 2016

Song sparrow with its rusty breast patch

Mourning cloak butterflies may been seen now, especially where trees have sap flows from splits or wounds to the bark. They are seldom seen on flowers, but will obtain nutrients from dung, sap, mud and fermenting fruits. Eggs are laid in rings around twigs of willow, elm and poplars among other woody trees.

Mourning cloak on sap flow from freshly cut tree stump in early April

Mourning cloak butterfly obtaining sap in April from a freshly cut tree stump

bumblebee on purple deadnettle

Bumblebee on dead nettle flower

When you go out, listen for the raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers as they find mates and establish territories. Don’t forget to look down occasionally and you can find all sorts of insects and plants that might be missed otherwise. And check out the flowers of skunk cabbages for the insects that pollinate them. Stop, look and listen whenever and wherever you go, even if it is in your own backyard. Maybe you will agree with Albert Einstein-

“ Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

 
Pamm Cooper                                 All photos copyrighted by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a fondness for teasel (Dipsacus species) because it was common in the area where I grew up in southwestern Michigan.  Of course, I didn’t know then that it was invasive, or even what an invasive species was.  Now, on road trips between Connecticut and Michigan, I watch for the distinctive flower heads as we drive along.  I’ve never spotted teasel in Connecticut (or elsewhere in the northeast) but according to references I’ve checked, it does occur throughout the area.  There are two species that occur in the United States, D. fullonum (common teasel) and D. laciniatus (cut-leaved teasel).  Common teasel is, not surprisingly, the most common but cut-leaved teasel is described as more aggressive in its establishment and spread where it occurs. teasel-jallen J. Allen photo

If you’re not familiar with teasel, it is distinctive due to its coarsely spined flower heads, pictured above. The plants are herbaceous biennials.  During the first year of growth, a leaf rosette is formed.  In the second year, a tall (3-8 feet), prickly stem forms.  It branches at the top and forms egg-shaped flower heads.  Tiny flowers emerge first in a band around the center of the flower head and develop both up and down from there.  The prickly dried flower heads can be used as a comb and were widely used in the plants native range for combing, cleaning and raising the nap of fabrics, especially woolens (sample device pictured below from the Trowbridge Museum website). teasel-handfabricnap-trowbridge-museumThe root system has a substantial yellow tap root with fibrous secondary roots.  Seeds are attractive to birds and wildlife.  Where teasel is native (Europe, Eurasia and northern Africa), it is recommended for gardens both as an ornamental and as an attractant for birds (ie the European goldfinch) and wildlife.  The dried flower heads are sometimes used in the floriculture trade.

A fascinating attribute of teasel is that the plants are considered partially carnivorous. Carnivorous plants are those that are able to trap insects or other tiny animals and digest them or extract nutrients from them to use as a source of sustenance.  In the case of teasel, the leaves on the stem formed in the second season are fused where two opposite leaves meet on the stem. This forms a small ‘cup’ where rain water collects and tiny insects are caught there.  In a study done in the UK by Peter Shaw and Kyle Shackleton and published in 2011, it was shown that common teasel plants with dead fly larvae placed in the water in the ‘cup’ had a 30% greater seed set and seed biomass than plants with no larvae.  While the larvae did improve seed production, they did not see an increase in overall plant growth/biomass.

To distinguish between common and cut-leaved teasel, both the leaves and flower heads can be used. See the images below for comparison.

teasel-common-leaves-bugwoodteasel-common-flower-bugwood Common teasel leaves and flower heads.

teasel-cutleaved-bugwoodteasel-cutleaved-flower-bugwood Cut-leaved teasel leaves and flower heads.

All above photos from: ©Richard Old, XID Services Inc., Bugwood.org

The first report of common teasel in the U.S. was dates back to the 1700s but no additional reports are known until the 1800s when it was described in Oregon, Michigan, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Since that time, it has spread and been confirmed throughout the contiguous states except in the northern great plains and the southeast.  Cut-leaved teasel was reported from Michigan and New York prior to 1900.  Both species are considered invasive in the U.S. but without a legal status.  While described as being ‘invasive’, states don’t necessarily have a legal status limiting the distribution of these plants. Connecticut does not.

Besides using the dried flower heads, root extract has historically been used to treat a variety of ailments including stomach upset, pain, inflammation, nervous system maladies, and most notably, and more recently, in the treatment of Lyme disease. It is reputed to draw the bacterial pathogen causing Lyme disease out of tissues where it is protected from antibiotics into the blood stream where it is susceptible to them and to the body’s immune system. This is NOT a recommendation to use teasel in the treatment of Lyme disease in the absence of treatment by a medical professional.

J. Allen

 

Masses of white flowers are a common and beautiful sight along Connecticut’s roadways and in fields this time of year (late May through June). While there are (of course) many shrubs and trees bearing white flowers, one of the most predominant is multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).   This rose is native to Japan, Korea and parts of China and has become invasive throughout eastern North America.  While it is invasive and is a real problem, we’re sort of stuck with it overall so go ahead and enjoy the gorgeous blooms.MultifloraRoseBush.JAllen  Photo: J. Allen, UConn

Multiflora rose was first introduced into the U.S. as early as 1866 for use as a rootstock for ornamental roses. In the 1930s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service began to recommend it for erosion control and as a ‘living fence’ for livestock.  In the 1960s plants were even distributed to landowners for free to encourage planting as cover for wildlife including birds and rabbits and as a food source for songbirds.  Thanks to the songbirds, many seeds have been distributed to new sites because they do like to eat the nutritious rose hips (fruit).   The plant is now considered a noxious or invasive weed in many states including in Connecticut “…prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statutes §22a-381d”.

MultifloraRoseflowers.J Photo: J. Allen, UConn

It’s pretty easy to recognize multiflora rose when it’s in flower but also once the bloom period is over. Flowers are borne in clusters of mostly white but sometimes slightly pink flowers that are ½ to 1” across and have five petals.  Leaves, too, are distinctive.   They are alternate and compound, having 5-11 oval leaflets with toothed margins.  The base or petiole of the leaf is fringed.  Even the thorns are unique to this species.  They are large, curved backwards and have an oval base.  If a thorn is removed, it will leave a visible oval scar on the stem.  They’re pretty serious thorns and are reported to be capable of puncturing tires and leaving a painful gash in skin.  Overall, this plant can reach a height of about 15’ with long, arching stems.  It can also be a climber and at times you will see it spreading up against other vegetation or structures.  For some great info and photos of the thorns, fringed petals (stipules), and more check out this web page: http://na.fs.fed.us/spfo/invasiveplants/factsheets/pdf/multiflora-rose.pdf

MultifloraRosespreading.J.AllenMultiflora rose spreading through a natural area and up another tree in the background. Photo: J. Allen, UConn.

Reproduction is by seeds (prolific at 500,000 to a million seeds per large bush per year), suckers and by rooting at the end of stems that arch over and touch the ground. Widespread dispersal is via birds that eat the fruit and expel the seeds.  It’s reported that seeds which have passed through a bird’s digestive system germinate more readily.  Invasiveness is enhanced by not only the huge potential for seed production but also by the fact that the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years.

Like other roses, the hips and other plant parts (leaves and flowers) are edible. The hips are high in Vitamin C, carotene and essential fatty acids.  It’s recommended to harvest after the first frost when berries are softened and sweet.  They can be eaten raw but do contain some hairs between the flesh and the seed that can cause irritation.   Leaves, flowers and hips can be used to make tea.  To make rose hip tea, mash the fruits and steep in hot water.  Leaves are best when young as the hairs on the undersides can become stiffer and less palatable later in the season.

Some of the broader impacts of this plant, like other invasives, include displacement/replacement of native plants and the resulting impacts on habitat and food supply for native wildlife. Pasture lands are adversely affected when these thorny plants encroach and reduce forage area for livestock.  Even forestry operations are affected because of the impenetrable, thorny thickets that form, reducing access and making work difficult.  Multiflora rose can thrive in a wide range of habitats from open sunny sites to woodland edges.  It can survive on a range of soil types but is not found in extremely dry or wet sites.

Control methods used include physical or manual removal including mowing, digging, and prescribed fire. Chemical herbicides can be used as either a cut stem (fall) or foliar application.  Biological controls are not yet available.  A virus that causes rose rosette disease limits growth in some areas but that also affects ornamental roses.  An insect, the European rose chalcid, is being studied for potential use.

By J. Allen

 

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

Air Line trail Raymond Brook marsh area Pamm Cooper photo

Raymond Brook Marsh on the Air Line Trail

In the last three weeks I have visited parts of the Connecticut Air Line Trail and because of what can be found there, I want to share what my friends and I have seen during April and May of this year. Since timing is everything, some of what we enjoyed has moved on or faded, but maybe next year some of you may experience the same excitement of discovery and pleasures of observing flora and fauna in their natural environs.

First of all, this trail was established along an old rail bed that went from Boston to New York and was constructed in the 1870’s. Long gone now, this trail system goes from Thompson to East Hampton and is an easy walk or ride of hikers and bikers. And while all seasons can provide their own versions of landscape interest, I prefer spring and summer.

blackbird 5-14-16

Red-winged blackbird male staking his territory

This spring was especially interesting because of the cold weather. Many migrating birds were found all at the same time- both those passing through and those returning to breed. On one Saturday morning in early May, along a marsh in the Colchester area, birds were abounding in both color and song. We heard and saw the following in just a hundred yard stretch of the trail: Orchard and Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, warbling and red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song and marsh sparrows, common yellowthroats, black- throated green, black and white,Northern parula and yellow-rumped warblers, redstarts, veerys, wood thrushes, red tailed hawks and more. Within a few days, most of the warblers had moved on to northern breeding regions, with the yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and some black-throated green warblers staying on to raise their young here.

yellow warbler singing copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

Male Yellow Warbler singing in the morning

 

Blueberries abound along the marshy areas of the trail, so of course you would find catbirds and other fruit- loving birds in those spots. This year seems to be a good one for blueberry. Much like last year, the bushes are loaded with flowers and the bees pollinating them, so a bumper crop may follow.

blueberry

Blueberry flowers

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber honeysuckle- a native vine

Along the trail, keep your eyes open for interesting plants, especially along stream and marsh edges. This trail abounds with black chokeberry, limber honeysuckle, pink lady slippers, red and nodding trillium, wild sarsaparilla, tall meadow rue, native geraniums and native azaleas- the Pinxter flower azaleas. There are also the invasive autumn olives and Japanese honeysuckles, but these are sources of pollen and nectar for native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hummingbird spent a lot of time visiting these two plant species, and was in the oak woods finding lots of insects and spiders as well. There is a stretch where the native geraniums- Geranium maculatum grow like a hedgerow along a ditch, and are visited by many bees and early- flying butterflies. You need to go off trail and into the woods to find, as we did, the elusive nodding trillium, which blooms later than the purple species. This trillium is white, and the flower dangles down below large leaves so that it can be easily missed, so it was a nice surprise to find it.

trillium noddiing 5-21-16

Nodding Trillium

Raymond Brook Marsh is one of the most extensive inland wetlands complexes in eastern Connecticut. In the evening, just before dusk, beavers are busy getting started for a night of foraging here. You can see them on both sides of the trail, and sometimes they may surprise you with a slap of their tail if they are alarmed. They often climb out of the water on one side of the trail and slide down into the other side, often using the same spots that look like mud water slides. They will swim along and occasionally climb up a on a bank to nibble on various shrubs, like blueberry, that grow along the water.

Beaver after dining

Beaver taking a break after eating a small branch

There are also turtles that can frequently be seen crossing over the trail from one side of the marsh to the other. Besides the ubiquitous painted and snapping turtles, you may also occasionally see a stinkpot (musk) turtle or a spotted turtle as they crawl across the trail. The Cranberry Bog portion of the trail and the Rapallo Viaduct in East Hampton offer a resting spot beside a pond and a spectacular view from above, respectively.

musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle plastron

Musk turtle plastron

 

There are many other parts of the trail that are worth the walk, so bring both a camera and binoculars. Although spring is my favorite time to walk this trail, summer and fall are equally impressive. But I do miss all those spring birds…

 

Pamm Cooper           all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

The common blue violet (Viola sororia), also known as common meadow violet, purple violet, woolly blue violet, or wood violet, is a native perennial plant found throughout eastern North America. Some references give woolly blue violet (a variety with fuzzy leaves) its own species name but the most common status seems to be a single species with high variability. This little spring wildflower blooms from April through June and occurs naturally in moist meadows, woodland edges and along roads. It prefers moist, somewhat shady sites but once established it can thrive in dry and less favorable conditions and is often a problematic weed in turfgrass and landscapes.

J. Allen photo

J. Allen photo

At 3-8 inches tall, it is low growing with leaves and flowers on petioles originating from the root, not from a stem. Reproduction is via rhizomes and seed, both allowing spread and persistence in lawns and gardens. The most prevalent flower color is purple to blue but occasionally flowers may be pale purple, gray or white.

Flowers consist of five petals with two upper, two lateral and one lower petal. The lower petal has striking stripes that lead from its edge to the center of the flower and this design helps guide pollinators to the nectar within.   The color and scent of the flowers aid in attracting pollinators as well. Violets flower early in the season when pollinator activity may not be reliable so they produce a second type, a cleistogamous flower that appears lower to the ground and often later in the season. These are self-pollinating

Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Seed capsule.  Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_(plant)

Seed capsule. Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_(plant)

Historically, violets have been used for both food and medicine. Medicinal uses have included treatment of the common cold, headache, cough, sore throat and constipation. Nutritionally, a half cup of violet leaves are reported to contain as much vitamin C as three oranges. Both flowers and leaves are edible. Some violet species have a sweeter flavor and a stronger aroma that make them a nice garnish or addition to sweet dishes while others have a mild pea-like flavor and blend well in savory recipes. Some recipes for using violets are available on the American Violet Society website, including this one for crystallized viola.

CAUTIONS:

  • Never use plants for food unless you are 100% certain that you’ve identified the plant correctly.
  • African violets are NOT related to these plants and are NOT edible.
  • Do not use plants that may have been treated with any kind of chemicals/pesticides including those in lawns, roadsides, etc. if history of the site is unknown.

There is a beautiful ‘language of flowers’ in which a particular flower can carry a special meaning or message. The message associated with a particular flower, which may be specific to color, can vary by region or reference. In North America (according to one reference), the violet means modesty and blue violets in particular can mean watchfulness or faithfulness or may send the message ‘I’ll always be true”. More on the language of flowers and a list of many for North America can be found here.

So far, I’ve just mentioned in passing the fact that perennial violets can become a weed problem in turfgrass and landscapes. If you’re interested in what to do about this plant as a weed, there is great information here from Purdue University.

  1. Allen

 

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is really at its peak right now, brightening the fading natural landscape of late summer with splashes of yellow in fields, along roadways and on the edges of wooded areas. There are many species of goldenrod and they all have yellow flowers that are produced in late summer to early fall. One common roadside species is Canadian goldenrod (S. canadensis), shown in the photo (if I’ve ID’d it correctly). Goldenrods are in the Asteraceae family and are herbaceous perennials.

J. Allen photo.

J. Allen photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most goldenrods are native to North America and many people consider them weeds but certain species (and cultivars) have been gaining popularity in gardening. Some of the new cultivars are less aggressive spreaders than their wild counterparts and the flowers are very attractive to many beneficial insects including pollinators and parasites and predators of pests. In addition to these nice qualities, goldenrods are considered edible and have been used extensively for medicinal purposes.   Commonly assumed to cause allergic reactions when in flower, the pollen of goldenrods is too heavy and sticky to be airborne in large quantities that would be a problem. This time of year, ragweed is the most common culprit.

Medical ailments historically treated using this plant include minor skin wounds, tuberculosis, diabetes, gout, hemorrhoids, internal bleeding, asthma, arthritis, inflammation, high blood pressure and kidney stones. No significant scientific research has been done to date to support these uses but a few laboratory studies do suggest a benefit may occur for inflammation, muscle spasms, fighting infections and lowering blood pressure.   It also seems to have diuretic properties. It is used in herbal teas. Consult with your doctor before using goldenrod or other supplements to treat any medical condition. A University of Maryland publication on this subject recommends caution for people that have certain existing health conditions.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

An interesting historical use of goldenrod is for rubber. Its leaves typically contain 7% rubber. Apparently Thomas Edison worked on fertilization and cultivation methods to maximize the rubber content and his work produced a 12 foot tall plant with up to 12% rubber content. Henry Ford, a friend of Edison’s, used goldenrod rubber for tires on the Model T he gave to him. Ford also collaborated with George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, funding work to develop synthetic rubber and/or commercialize goldenrod rubber when World War II caused rubber shortages. Unfortunately, the rubber from goldenrod was not of high enough quality for commercial use.

Traditional garden lore on companion planting lists goldenrod as a plant that seems to attract striped cucumber beetles away from the vegetable garden. No data has proven this one way or the other. Research indicates that goldenrod may have some allelopathic (harmful/inhibitory) effect on some trees, including black locust and sugar maple.   Goldenrod has the distinctive status of state flower in both Kentucky and Nebraska and is the state wildflower of South Carolina and the state herb of Delaware.

Goldenrods have been introduced as garden flowers in other parts of the world and in parts of Europe and China have escaped cultivation and become problematic invasives. There are recipes available for making goldenrod oil and vinegar. Whether you use the plant in your kitchen or just enjoy the pretty blossoms, now you know a little more about this native plant and its role in the environment.

 

 

 

J. Allen

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Not all pretty flowering plants in small, four-inch pots siting on the nursery bench are as innocent as they appear. Beware the sneaky aggressor! About five years ago the delicate and rare clear blue color of the comfrey blossom, shyly wooed me into taking it home. What could one more plant hurt in the side garden abutting the wild side of the neighbor’s yard hurt? Well, it hurt plenty. I have been cursing the day I planted it.

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey spreads incredibly fast. It is a hardy perennial with a deep and extensive root system. And its seed drop and are spread to create new plants elsewhere. The neighbor loves it and encourages its spread which doesn’t help my eradication efforts on my side of the property line. I suppose it makes a better fence than wood and nails, and he enjoys the view.  The bees enjoy the flowers, too. Dozens of honey bees can be found busily entering flower after flower, not caring how close I get to almost petting them.

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Comfrey is botanically known as Symphytum sp. and is a member of the borage family. The Latin name means ‘grow together’.  It was first brought to America with the English as a healing herb. I contains a high level of the chemical allantoin which aids in cell formation, healing. It also is reported to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, known to cause liver damage when taken internally in large amounts. The leaves can be crushed or bruised to be placed on external skin areas to heal wounds and broken bones. I only use the plant as an ornamental and to spread into the neighbors neglected ‘wild’ area.

Comfrey has a tap-root, growing about 18 inches deep in the soil. It does a great job of breaking up compacted ground, accessing the minerals and nutrients out of reach of shallower plant roots. For this reason, comfrey leaves are a great addition to the compost pile, as those deep-seated nutrients of the ground are now taken up by the roots to be stored in the comfrey leaves. Once the microbes in the compost pile break down the comfrey leaves into its basic chemical elements, the nutrients are released into the compost and made available for use by other plants. Just don’t put any of those spreading roots into the compost pile. Keep any seeds out of the compost also.

So heed those enticing words on the plant labels when the just mention the words, ‘fast grower’ or ‘spreading’. Sometimes they really mean it!

-Carol Quish

 

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