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Archive for the ‘Family: Aster’ 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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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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Here in Sweden it appears that the spring flowers have (finally!) decided to wake up. As usual, the winter has been sticking around quite late this far north. But the little dots of color popping up here and there make up for the wait.

coltsfoot2

Crocuses have started to bloom and snowdrops have arrived as well. One flower I came across just last week is a new one for my early spring collection. The name in English is Coltsfoot, in Swedish it is quite similar – Hästhov (horse hoof). Its Latin name is Tussilago farfara. Tussilago means ‘cough suppressant’ (recognize ‘tussis’ from pertussis? it means cough), due to the plant’s medicinal uses. The name in Swedish and in English could be due to fact that the leaves (not shown here) are in the shape of a horse’s hoof. Another explanation could be that hästhov is a corruption of hosthäva, which means ‘cough enhancer’ (reference).

Coltsfoot (Hästhov), Stockholm, Sweden in April

Coltsfoot (Hästhov), Stockholm, Sweden in April

At first you might think these flowers are dandelions, but a closer inspection reveals them to be very different. One clue that they are not dandelions is that they appear earlier in the year. Second clue is their leaves – there are no leaves when the flower is blooming – the leaves appear later – and when they do appear, they are very different in shape. Lastly, the stalk of the Coltsfoot is always hollow and leafless. In the above photo you can see the reddish scales. Coltsfoot grows in ditches and in waste ground, often damp areas near water. I found these flowers on an untended piece of land that was not far from the sea North of Stockholm. Coltsfoot blooms from March until May in Southern and Central Sweden (up to Jämtland). In the U.S., this flower can be found South to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and flowers appear March through June.

Uses: cough suppressant/cough drops/cough syrup (boil fresh leaves and add sugar to the extract), tea (dried leaves), seasoning (dried burned leaves), poison (toxic to the liver, especially in children, due to alkaloids), a tobacco substitute (the leaves can be smoked, used in World War I), a confectionary product (Coltsfoot Rock, rock candy from the U.K. flavored with the coltfoot leaves), and  fermented wine. Quite a range of uses! (reference: Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants).

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Today was a beautiful September day – a little cooler than last week but the sun was strong and warm.  I came across these blue asters by the Fens.

New York Aster (Aster novae-belgii), September (Boston, MA)

It is hard to identify asters sometimes because there are so many of them and they can be very similar. I believe this one is a New York Aster for the following reasons:

1. Stem is pretty smooth and only slightly downy. Other asters have a hairy stem.

2. Leaves are narrowly lanceolate (long, like a lance).  Other asters have wider leaves or heart-shaped leaves.

3. Leaves have some teeth (but not many). Other asters can have mostly toothed leaves.

4. Leaves are not strongly clasping the stem.

5. Floral bracts are reflexed (the green part that surrounds the underside of the flower look like they’re peeling away from it)

6. Found in meadows, shores, wet spots from July through October.

The only reason I am still unsure is that this flower is not deep violet but a lighter shade and the stem was purplish in parts. These characteristics are found in other species but not alongside the 6 above ones.  I think asters can hybridize, so maybe this is a mix of a few.  The name “aster” comes from Latin and means “star”.

Note the leaves:

New York Aster, September, Boston, MA

Here you can see the flower bracts:

New York Aster, Boston, MA, September

Funny to find these New York Asters here in Boston… we won’t tell the Red Sox fans nearby that New Yorkers are residing so close to Fenway Park!

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This pale blue flower seems to be in the corner of every park right now in any available untended patch. It is tall (30 mm) with toothed leaves.  What stood out to me about this flower at first was how frilly the petals were!  Then, after getting a closer look, I noticed the stamens which curl at the end. What a beautiful wildflower.

Blue Sow-thistle (Parksallat), Stockholm, Sweden

In Swedish, the name is Parksallat (Latin name: Cicerbita macrophylla macro=large, phylla=leaf).  This flower produces lots of runners underground from the rhizome then produces a tall stalk that quickly smothers other nearby vegetation.  Thus, much like its family member the dandelion, these flowers are hard to remove from gardens once they’ve set up their home there.  The blue sow-thistle is a member of the daisy family and originally comes from Russia. It can be found in Southern and Central Sweden from July through September.

Common Blue Sow-thistle (Parksallat), Stockholm, Sweden

 

 

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I was brought up to think that dandelions are only weeds that ruin your lawn.  My parents’ lawn is riddled with them, and every spring when they start to sprout my mother tries her best to uproot them before their heads become fluffy balls of seeds ready to spread even further.  Here in Sweden, I have noticed that they don’t mow the lawns quite as religiously so dandelions have had a chance to sprout.  Walking by a field dotted with dandelions is actually beautiful!  And the way they grow everywhere and anywhere, in between rocks and on the side of the road, is pretty amazing.  I’ve gone from being a dandelion-hater to a dandelion-lover.

Dandelions (Maskrosor), Stockholm, Sweden

The English name, dandelion, comes from the French name dent-de-lion (lion’s tooth) because of the coarsely thoothed leaves.  In Swedish, they are called maskros, literally worm rose, because of the small insects found in the flowers.  The wikipedia article on the Taraxacum genus has a very good section on names for dandelion all over the world.

Dandelions (Maskrosor), Stockholm, Sweden

Native to North America and Eurasia, this genus has about 34 macrospecies and 2000 microspecies.   The whole plant is edible, and there are many ways to prepare it (salad, coffee, even wine!).

In Sweden there are 12 species groups with about 1000 species.  It’s difficult to distinguish between species – I once used my Peterson’s guide to try to identify specific species.  Dandelions can reproduce both asexually and sexually, this gives rise to a very diverse populations with subtle differences between the species.  There are, apparently, different species groups or sections that are distinct.

Dandelions (Maskrosor), Stockholm, Sweden

Dandelions (Maskrosor), Stockholm, Sweden

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