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Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

In late September last year, I visited Newport, Rhode Island. The weather was beautiful – the sun was strong, the sky was clear and blue, and it was a perfect chance to walk along the cliff walk where the mansions look over the ocean.

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

I noticed this bright yellow flower, which I was sure was a goldenrod, growing from the rocks. I was surprised to see a goldenrod by the ocean, since I’ve mainly seen them in sandy waste areas by the side of the road. This goldenrod was more plush than its relatives, with healthy leaves and full flower heads.

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

Its leaves are toothless and parallel-veined. It sometimes hybridizes with the Rough Stemmed goldenrod and can be found along the coasts near salt marshes, dunes and beaches. This one is a showy one, but on New York shores and south to Florida, they might not have such a plume-like head. There are many goldenrods in New England, but the key aspects to look for to tell them apart are the silhouette and whether the leaves are feather-veined or parallel-veined. Something new I learned while looking up this flower is that underneath the plant are  rhizomes – the plants close in proximity to each other all may come from the same original plant and may actually be clones.

Goldenrods signal the end of the summer. It was nice to see this flower out in late September – it can bloom through November in some parts – on a day when it felt like summer was going strong.

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

Seaside goldenrod, Rhode Island in September

I caught a bee enjoying the goldenrod nectar. Goldenrods are insect-pollinated – the bright yellow attracts the bugs and the sticky pollen sticks to their legs so it gets passed around. If you are interested in finding insects, goldenrods are a good place to start! But insects aren’t the only ones who have enjoyed consuming this plant. The leaves are edible and have been used for some healing remedies (the Latin name for goldenrod Solidago, which means to make whole, coming from its medicinal use in healing wounds). Apparently they also contain rubber, which was once used to make tires!

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Northern Flicker

It has been so long since I last posted! My camera broke and the winter arrived, so I went into hibernation. I have been so inspired lately by the beautiful birds at the bird feeder, that I’ve decided to go into my archives to try to identify some birds I have photographed.

These photos were taken in September in Boston. I had some trouble identifying this bird at first, but thank goodness for google! I googled “brown bird black spot chest” and found it right away. This Northern Flicker is quite distinctive because of its spots and red nape crescent on the back of the head, which you can just barely make out in one photo. I had seen this bird foraging on the ground, but it turns out it is a woodpecker that also looks for insects on the ground. Flickers are large woodpeckers that are often seen on the ground in open areas (reference: Sibley Guide to Birds).

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

I couldn’t tell right away if it was a Yellow-Shafted or Red-Shafted Flicker because I didn’t catch it flying to see the under part of the wings. But odds are that this is a Yellow-Shafted (Taiga/Eastern) Flicker because I saw it in Massachusetts and the face is brown, not gray. This is a female Flicker because the face is all one color, there is no black malar (the feathers along side of the lower jaw) as is found in male Yellow Northern Flickers (the malar is red in Red-Shafted males). For more information, check out the website www.eol.org.

In this photo, you can just catch the red mark on the back of the neck. She is in the process of looking for insects in the grass, most likely ants.

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

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This sturdy weed has been growing along the path on my way to work – first seen in June but is still growing now at the end of July. I identified it as the rough-fruited cinquefoil, a member of the Rose family and introduced from Europe. The Latin name is Potentilla recta, “recta” meaning “erect”, to distinguish it from the common cinquefoil, which has prostrate stems. “Cinquefoil” has the word “cinque” in it, which in French means 5 because the plant has radially 5-parted leaves.

Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil, Boston, MA in June

The flowers are pale yellow in a flat terminal cluster and large (1/2-1 inch). The plant is hairy, very leafy and many-branched. You can see that it’s growing in a gravel-ly, sandy place by the road, and for some reason the lawn-mowers missed it so I can enjoy it every day on my way to and from work!

Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil, Boston, MA in June

 

 

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I found this flower growing in June in Western Massachusetts in an overgrown field. At first I didn’t notice the flowers, just the odd veined sacks (or bladders) that the flowers protrude from. The Bladder Campion, or Silene cucubalus, was introduced in the U.S. from Europe.

Bladder Campion, Western Massachusetts in June

The veined balloon-like sack that makes this flower so identifiable is called a calyx. The stem and leaves are smooth, leaves are stalkless and it grows from 8 to 18 inches tall. Often found in dry soil, roadsides, boarders of fields and waste places.

Bladder Campion, Western Massachusetts in June

This plant is edible – the young leaves can be cooked green. The tender young leaves, picked when the plant is only a few inches high, can be boiled for 10 minutes and served with butter or vinegar. This can taste a little bitter, but this is due to a harmless amount of the toxin saponin (reference: Peterson Field Guides: Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America).

I found this old drawing in “Who’s Who Among the Wild Flowers” and the picture posted by the Connecticut Botanical Society shows more of the flowers than my photos.

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I saw this interesting wildflower in a field in Western Massachusetts in June. At first, it blended in with the grass around it, but getting closer you can see the yellow flowers peaking out from the circular pods. The flowers are in the upper leave axils, the leaves grow in pairs, and the plant grows to between 8 and 20 inches tall. Native to this area, it is a member of the Snapdragon family.

Yellow Rattle, Western Massachusetts in June

The “flat bladder-like envelope” is formed from the calyx (joined sepals) around the base of the flower [ref: Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers]. This “envelope” becomes inflated when it has fruit. The flower gets its name because the seeds will rattle in the pod. The flower guide says the upper lip is often tinged with violet and the lower lip spotted, but the ones I found appeared to be all yellow.

Yellow Rattle, Western Massachusetts in June

I often get a lot of information from looking up the Latin name on Google (Rhinanthis crista-galli), but this is the first flower in a long time that didn’t have a wikipedia article listed. I did find it on wikipedia commons here with a list of different names in other languages. The Swedish name, Ängsskallra, means “meadow rattle”, and the other languages also call this flower a rattle. I really like old scientific drawings of flowers, here is one in Italian and here is one from 1913 with some more detailed description.

Yellow Rattle, Western Massachusetts in June

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In late May, while walking around the Hartford Reservoir in Connecticut, I saw these wild Irises growing by the edge of the water. I was pleased to find them in the wild, as I usually see their cultivated cousins in gardens. The name “Iris” in Greek means “rainbow”, referring to the flowers many colors.

Blue Flag, West Hartford, CT in late May

Found in May through July in marshes and wet meadows, the Blue Flag grows 2 to 3 feet tall and its showy blue petals wave like a flag with white and yellow and deep purple veins.

Blue Flag, West Hartford, CT in late May

I enjoyed the description of this wildflower in “Wild Flowers Worth Knowing”, a book that was written in the early 1900’s and now available online. Read the section on the Blue Flag here, especially the description of how the veins and petal formation guide bees to the nectar, leading to pollination. Also, the name fleur-de-lis isn’t very often used for this flower, but this hundred-year-old book lists it as a name and describes the origin of the name.  “The fleur-de-lys, which is the flower of chivalry,” says Ruskin, “has a sword for its leaf and a lily for its heart.”

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This small flower has an appropriate name: it looks like grass until you notice the little blue flowers, like eyes. There are 9 species of blue-eyed grasses in the Northeast United States – this one is Sisyrinchium montanum. This species has no stems branched and broader leaves (1/3 in.)  whereas other species have much thinner leaves and/or have some stems branched. They can vary from 4 to 24 inches high and grow in meadows and on shores. These species may cross with each other, though, so this might be a mix of a few (such as S. angustifolium).

Blue-Eyed Grass, West Hartford, CT in May

All blue-eyed grasses are stiff and grass-like with 6 petals, each with a small point at the end. It struck me how beautiful the yellow center was contrasted against the blue. I love flowers like this – ones that you might miss if you walk too quickly but once you take the time to really observe its careful details, it is just as beautiful as the showy plants you can buy in the store.

Blue-Eyed Grass, West Hartford, CT in May

I spotted this flower while walking around the Hartford Reservoir in Connecticut in late May.

Blue-Eyed Grass, West Hartford, CT in May

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In late April, I went for a walk in the woods in the suburbs of Boston where I have found White Trillium blooming at this time of year. I came across the trillium again, which is always a thrill, and I also found a new flower that I can add to my buttercup collection. This flower is called the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).

Marsh Marigold, Massachusetts April 2012

Here are a few facts about this bright yellow flower:

  • Large flowers (1 to 1.5 inches) are made up of 5 to 9 “petals” (actually sepals)
  • Glossy leaves are roundish and heart-shaped
  • Thick stem is hollow and succulent
  • Grows to a height of 8 to 24 inches
  • Can be found near swamps and brooksides April through June

Marsh Marigold, April 2012 in Massachusets

It turns out this plant’s leaves are a traditional New England spring green from the days of the pilgrims! Here are a few ways to prepare this plant that I found in the Peterson Field Guide on Edible Wild Plants:

  • Collect the young leaves before the plant has finished blossoming. Cook them 20-30 minutes or in 2-3 changes of boiling water
  • Young flower buds can be used as capers. Boil them 10 minutes in 2 changes of water and pickle them in hot water. Do not drain juice that buds have been pickled in.
  • Do not eat raw – this plant has a poison that is only removed after cooking it. Do not handle for long – it can irritate the skin.

Also, this plant has several names, which are interesting (thank you wikipedia for a great section on etymology!):

  • in the UK it is also called Kingcup
  • in Latin, Caltha palustris – palustris comes from “of the marsh”, because of its habitat
  • in the U.S., another name is Cowslip, which is also the name of Primula veris.
  • Marigold comes from its use in churches at Easter time in Medieval times – for Mary Gold.

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This year’s spring has been beautiful – it started earlier than usual so we’ve been able to enjoy the spring flowers for longer. My favorite thing this time of year is seeing the flowering trees. There are magnolias, dogwoods and cherry trees. The magnolias have all finished blooming, but the cherry trees seem to hold on to their flowers for longer. This year, they have hit their peak bloom in April, whereas last year it was early May that they were at this stage.

Cherry Tree, The Fens, Boston, MA in April

 

The cherry tree’s genus is Prunus and it is in the rose family (not surprising when you see the rose-like flowers). Cherries have trunk bark with numerous cross streaks and buds with many scales. The whitish flowers are in long grape-like clusters cherries are always thornless. The leaves sticks and seeds from cherry trees often contain hydrocyanic acid, which makes the crushed twigs smell a little sour and if ingested, can make cattle or horses sick (or kill them). The fruit of the cherry tree is important to birds and mammals for food.

There are several species of cherry tree, but many of them are ornamental and not native to the U.S. The main way that the book I use distinguishes among species, “A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs” by George A. Petrides, is to look at the bark, the leaves, and the placement of the flowers. Is the bark rough and dark or smooth? Are the leaves sharp-toothed or blunt? Egg-shaped or narrow?  Are the flower clusters umbrella-like or in long clusters?

Cherry Tree Leaves, Boston

You can see that this cherry tree’s leaves have egg-shaped sharp-toothed leaves, with teeth that are so small they are almost hair-like. They are red underneath and green on top. I don’t know what type of cherry tree this is, but I know it’s good to sit under and read on sunny days and watch the birds fly from tree to tree.

Cherry Tree, Boston, MA

The flowers are quite showy and have not fallen off yet, despite the heavy winds the other day.

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA (April, 2012)

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA April

 

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April in Boston, walking along the marshy banks of the Fens, you expect to see people jogging, Canada geese grazing and the common mallard swimming around looking for hand outs. I was surprised and delighted to come across a muskrat! Due to my ignorance about identifying this species, I at first thought it was a beaver. Apparently, his narrow tail and smaller size lets you know he is a muskrat, although this semi-aquatic rodent also (like the beaver) likes to live in wetlands, marshes and ponds.

I caught him on video!

Here he is eating some leaves off of a branch:

And here he is running into the water once he realizes he’s been spotted:

Apparently muskrats can stay underwater for over 15 minutes, so I didn’t stick around to find out where he’d pop up.

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