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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

This is one of my favorite wildflowers which grows here in Stockholm. It is delicate, intricate, and absolutely beautiful. I found it growing in the first half of May in a marshy area next to a pond. I am reminded of when it should be blooming every time mother’s day is celebrated in the U.S. I think about how beautiful the flower is, I wish my mother was here to see it.

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Kungsängslilja, Snake’s head lily, Stockholm, Sweden, May

In Swedish, Kungsängslilja got its name from Kungsängen (King’s Meadow), a meadow near Fyris River outside Uppsala. It means, literally, King’s Meadow Lily. It is said that the flowers grew in great number there after the battle between Erik Segersäll and Styrbjörn Starke in the 10th century (Battle of Fyrisvellir). For every fallen Danish soldier, a red/purple flower grew, for every fallen Swedish, a white flower grew. The white kungsängsliljor are less common than the red/purple, more Danes were killed than Swedes, and Erik was victorious. Kungsängslilja is Uppland’s official flower, or “landskapsblomma”.

snakes head lilly - white

Kungsängslilja, Snake’s head lily, Stockholm, Sweden, May

In English, this flower has several different names. The pattern on the petals is a little like snake skin. I think I find it so fascinating because it’s not native in the U.S., where I grew up. It is said to be native to Europe and western Asia and is quite rare. I look forward to every May, when I long for the days to get warmer, and this beautiful being appears and gives me hope that spring is springing.

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Kungsängslilja, Snake’s head lily, Stockholm, Sweden, May

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These little blue flowers hiding under a bush are called ‘blåsippor’ in Swedish. They grow in the spring time between March and May in well-drained soil, on lime usually in half-shaded woodsy areas.

Blåsippor, Hepatica nobilis, Stockholm, Sweden April 2015

Blåsippor, Hepatica nobilis, Stockholm, Sweden April 2015

The English name comes straight from the flower’s Latin name: Hepatica nobilis. We don’t have Hepatica back in the U.S., at least none that I have seen. According to ‘Blommor i Sverige’ by Janzon and Mossberg, hepatica were used to cure liver disease because the leaf looks like a human liver. In fact, that is where its name comes from. Hepatica comes from Latin’s ‘hepar’ which means liver (think: hepatitis). Because it contains the toxin protoanemonin (like the other buttercups in its family), you shouldn’t eat it, despite what they used to say in the 1600’s.

I was especially surprised to see these blåsippor next to my friend’s driveway because I had read that they were protected due to over-picking. They are protected in Skåne, Halland, Västra Götaland, Stockholm and Västerbotten counties. This flower is used to represent the political party the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna).

With these spring flowers which appear just after the frost, I also hope to come out of hibernation and share more of the beautiful spring flowers popping up everywhere. Vi ses snart (see you soon)!

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Recently, I took a road trip around Ireland. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been with such beautiful scenery and so many different landscapes, it was perfect for a travelling naturalist!

While in Galway, I saw this flower growing on the Spanish Arch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Arch).

 

Red Valerian, Galway, Ireland in July

Red Valerian, Galway, Ireland in July

I love flowers that can grow in any odd space, and this one certainly could. It was perched about halfway up, it doesn’t seem to have much of a foothold of dirt, but it is flourishing nonetheless! You can see here the hot pink head of tightly packed flowers. The Red Valerian is originally from the Mediterranean but can now be find places such as Ireland, not only in the wild but it is a garden perennial as well. I thought it might be more of a shrub than a wildflower because of the thick wooden stem holding on to the rock, but apparently it is a ‘subshrub’ and will be shrublike if it needs to be.

Listed as a member of the Valerian family in my Collins Pocket Guide (1996 edition), I just read on Wikipedia that Valerian is now considered part of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliacea). Flowers in this family have leaves opposite and small flowers with 5 joined petals.

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I was in Southern Sweden over the weekend and found this flower by a tree stump next to the lake. I thought they were interesting, a group of purple balls balancing on their thin stalks, waving in the wind.

Sand Leek (Skogslök), Halland Sweden in June

Sand Leek (Skogslök), Halland Sweden in June

When I got closer, I could smell onion. I realized that the onion smell was coming from one of the broken stalks. So it is no surprise that this flower is called sand leek in English and skogslök (wood onion) in Swedish (Latin name Allium scorodoprasum). They grow in fresh, humus-rich soil near water. They were once farmed and a popular for use in cooking. The sand leek is native to Europe. There is another flower that is similar, sandlök (called wild garlic in English) which actually grows in more dry sandy areas. I wonder why the wood onion was named sand leek in English? Linnaeus mentioned that sand leek was cooked with cabbage in his time. It smelled so good, I can imagine eating it!

Sand Leek (skogslök), Halland, Sweden, June

Sand Leek (skogslök), Halland, Sweden, June

This flower is my first Allium. I have seen alllium growing in gardens for show, I had no idea that Allium had so many relatives and that they smell like onion or garlic. Allium are members of the Amaryllis family (although one book I have says they are part of the lilly family, although that might be out of date now).

 

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Last week we came across many patches of this yellow flower growing along the water’s edge. They have distinct bright flowers and big green heart-shaped leaves. They looked so familiar, when I came home I realized they are called Marsh Marigold which also grows in New England.

Kabbleka, Stockholm, May

Kabbleka, Stockholm, May

In Swedish, this flower is called kabbleka (latin name: Caltha palustris). It grows between April to June, sometimes in July. The name first was noted in the 1630’s. According to ‘Blommor i Sverige’ by Janzon and Mossberg, the flower may be called kabbleka because it is close to ‘clump’, due to its clump of stalks and roots. Another explanation could be a corruption of the name ‘kalvleka’ (meaning ‘calf play’). This is a close to the English name ‘cow slip’, another name for marsh marigold.

Kabbleka (Marsh Marigold), Stockholm, Sweden

Kabbleka (Marsh Marigold), Stockholm, Sweden

Other names are klådblomster and skabbrosor due to the flower’s ability to both cause and cure klåd (itching) and skabb (scabies).

I don’t know about that, all I know is this flower brightened up our walk and is another flower Sweden has in common with New England!

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Recently I visited Gothenburg, Sweden. The weather was unusually nice for this time of year! We saw a lot of spring flowers there, this one really stood out as quite different from the rest.

I came across this funny looking pink flower growing in the shade under a tree, seemingly straight out of the dead leaves there. It was so odd looking because it didn’t have any green around it and I thought I was seeing things. This is a toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) or in Swedish, Vätteros. It is a member of the figwort or snapdragon family and grows April – May in woods or hedges. It is a parasite! It grows on roots, usually on Hazel. The flowers are 2-lipped and a pinkish-purple color. It looks like it doesn’t have leaves, but it does have leaves, they are just white. It is very cool to come across one of the few plants that does not require chlorophyl.

Toothwort or Vätteros, Gothenburg, Sweden

Toothwort or Vätteros, Gothenburg, Sweden

Where does it get its name? ‘Vätte’ in Swedish means goblin, and this goblin-rose gets its name because goblins spend most of their lives underground. The English name for it, toothwort, is not as interesting. ‘Wort’ is an old English name for plant, and ‘tooth’ refers to the root, which looks a bit like a bunch of teeth (see here). There are other flowers which are also called toothwort, so there can be confusion with the name. Let’s just call it goblin rose!

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I traveled to Italy in September and snapped a few photos of this beautiful flower. 

Caper (Capparis spinosa), Rome, Italy in September

Caper (Capparis spinosa), Rome, Italy in September

Its 4 petals are overshadowed by the many purple stamens and one stigma high above the rest. This was growing on the wall of the Villa Medici at the top of the Spanish steps. I had no idea what it was, just that it was beautiful.

Caper (Capparis spinosa), Rome, Italy in September

Caper (Capparis spinosa), Rome, Italy in September

I found out it was a caper plant when I got home and looked it up. I love capers! I put them into a dish with chicken and lemon sauce served over rice. I never really thought about what capers were, I just knew that I liked them. It turns out they are the buds of this plant!  They are in their own family, the caper family, but they are closely related to the mustard or crucifer family. I would love to grow some capers in a garden of my own one day but I guess I would have to live somewhere warmer, they do well in arid climates. But I wouldn’t need much dirt, these plants can grow rock ledges and walls without much of a foothold. 

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It’s getting a bit cold here in Sweden and there are few flowers left blooming in the wild. Berries and acorns adorn every tree and bush and mushrooms are popping up everywhere. Swedes seem to have a special place in their hearts for mushrooms and mushroom hunting and it isn’t uncommon for people to pick their own mushrooms here. I was always told not to eat any mushrooms I found in the wild, but apparently if you are well-practiced in their identification, it is possible to avoid poisoning yourself.

One mushroom that really sticks out and is most definitely poisonous is the Fly Agaric or in Swedish Röd Flugsvamp (meaning ‘red fly mushroom’).

Röd Flugsvamp or Fly Agaric

Röd Flugsvamp or Fly Agaric

It gets its name because it was once used in powder form, sprinkled in milk to kill flies. This mushroom starts off by looking like a white egg, and slowly grows into what you see pictured above, which is an example of a mature fly agaric (with a flat hat and white spots).

Flugsvampar, or ‘fly mushrooms’ (the agaric genus Amanita), characteristically have free gills (located under the hat), which in Swedish are called ‘skivor’ (literally meaning ‘slices’ or ‘disks’). As an immature fruiting body, it looks like a white puff ball. Once mature, they have white spots on the cap (or ‘hatt’ = hat) and a ring round the stalk (or in Swedish ‘fot’=foot) of the mushroom. There is also a kind of sock at the base of the stalk (in Swedish ‘strumpa’ = stocking) which in English is called the volva. Sometimes the white spots wash off in rain, so don’t use that as the only identifier. Not all flugsvampar are poisonous, but most of those in my Swedish mushroom book (9 total) are listed as poisonous, very poisonous or at least inedible. Fly agaric also has hallucinogenic properties if ingested.

There are so many different kinds of mushrooms, and now that I am learning about them I am seeing them everywhere! This seems to be a much more complicated thing to identify than flowers since mushrooms can look very different depending on age and may vary greatly in color. I am starting with at least learning the parts of the mushroom and I hope to explore more new fungi soon. For now, the red fly mushroom is a good start. It is the easiest to identify with its recognizable features and is quite thrilling to come across it, bright and cartoon-like, in the forest!

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Over the weekend, I went walking in the woods in central Sweden. When we crossed a small dirt road I came across some lupines in full bloom.

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

The Swedish name is quite similar to the English name, they’ve just added ‘blomster’ which means ‘flower’ to the front of it.  But where does ‘lupine’ come from? Lupine (or lupinus, its Latin name) means ‘of wolves’. According to wikipedia, there could be 2 possible reasons for having this name. One reason could be that because of the plant’s toxicity, it killed livestock like wolves do. Another explanation for the name comes from the belief that lupines suck all the nutrients from the soil killing the things around it, like wolves kill livestock. In reality, lupines return much needed nitrogen to the soil, and maybe just got this name because it is often found in waste areas where there is not much else growing (like sandy roadsides).

This plant has the skull and crossbones next to it in my Edible Wild Plants book – even though lupines have pea-like flowers, they cannot be substituted for peas! They contain a poisonous alkaloid and should not be consumed.

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

I love getting up close and noticing the intricacies of the flower. They look blue from afar but actually have a bit of purple and white on them as well. They are most commonly a bluish-purple but can vary in color from white to pink. Apparently a lupine population will shift from multicolored to blue over time, this is because the genes for blue color are dominant and the white or pink genes are recessive.

All the resources I have on wildflowers say that this plant blooms June-July, but I saw it going strong in mid-September in Sweden! I am not sure what species this was, but most sources say these can be garden escapes and not originally wild. That being said, all lupines found in Europe have technically already escaped, since they originally came from North America in the 1800’s. I have seen these beautiful flowers along the highway in New England – what a sight to see on a stretch of nothing much else.  I have a special place in my heart for lupines because I grew up with the book ‘Miss Rumphius‘ by Barbara Cooney. If you are a lover of nature and flowers and the world’s beauty, you will enjoy this children’s book.

An excerpt:

‘When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live by the sea’

‘That is all very well, little Alice’ said her grandfather, ‘but there is a third thing you must do.’

‘What is that?’ asked Alice.

‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful,’ said her grandfather.’

And Alice Rumphius goes on to travel the world and spreads Lupine seeds to make the world a more beautiful place.  Dear reader – whoever you may be – when you see a lupine, or any flower for that matter, remember that you should go out and do something to make the world a more beautiful place! But don’t spread lupine seeds – they are alien to Sweden and may threaten native flora by taking over their habitat.

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In mid-July, I went for a walk near my home in Stockholm and spotted this frilly flower by the side of a path on a hill.

Knapweed

In English, it is called Brown Knapweed and in Swedish it is called Rödklint.  ‘Knap’ and ‘klint’ are both old words meaning a small hill or crest of a hill, which seems quite fitting since I found it on a hill. It also grows in meadows and roadsides, anywhere in Southern and Central Sweden. It isn’t ‘röd’ (meaning ‘red’ in Swedish) but more of a purple color.

Knapweed1

This plant grows to between 30 and 80 cm high and has narrow leaves at random intervals on the stalk. The flower is what drew me to it – with its frilly head of what looks almost like purple hair. Looking closer, I liked the way the flower grows out of the ‘blomkorg’ (=literally flower basket, but meaning flower head), which looks like an acorn.

Ants enjoy eating the nutritious fruit and in this way help to spread the plant’s seeds. In the winter, the fruit in the flower head serve as food for birds.

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