Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’

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.


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.


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

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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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The cowslip or gullviva in Swedish is well known by many here in Sweden. I found it blooming in the grassy area between two buildings in Stockholm in May, all of the golden flowers pointing down hill towards the sun. They say this flower’s English name was given to it because it was likely to see it growing in cow dung or in slippery and boggy land.

Cowslip (Gullviva), Stockholm, Sweden in May

Cowslip (Gullviva), Stockholm, Sweden in May

Peering into the flower, you can see 5 orange-red spots. But mostly these flowers keep their heads down, all bunched at the top of a 10 to 25 cm hairy stem, dangling above a mass of wrinkly, downy, egg-shaped leaves.


Cowslip (Gullviva), Stockholm, Sweden in May

The cowslip has 2 kinds of flowers – ones on short stalks and ones on taller stalks. The short flowers must cross-fertilize with the tall ones for a good seed set (self-fertilization won’t lead to good offspring).

Cowslip (Gullviva), Stockholm, Sweden in May

Cowslip (Gullviva), Stockholm, Sweden in May

A few random facts (from Blommor i Sverige by Janzon and Mossberg):

– Gullviva is the official flower of the Swedish province Närke

– It has been used as a stimulant, cosmetic and to cure sicknesses.

– You can eat the leaves like spinach or kale.

– The flowers and their nectar were once used for making wine.

– Gullviva was once called Saint Peter’s Keys based on the story that St. Peter dropped his keys to heaven and lost them. The angel who went to find them was helped by the flower that grew up around where the keys were dropped. This flower may look a little like a golden set of keys.

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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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In my walk through the woods on the edge of Stockholm the first weekend of June, I found this beautiful flower with 5 cleft petals.  It is called a Red Campion, even though it is quite pink.  In Swedish, it is called Rödblära.  This flower blooms from May to August here in Sweden usually in damp woods or shady hedges where the soil is rich.

Red Campion (Rödblära), Stockholm, Sweden

Red Campions (from the Pink family) are medium/tall hairy perennials and can have many different shades of pink or red due to hybridization with white campions.  The Latin name is Silene dioica.  “Dioica” comes from the fact that male and female flowers are born on seperate plants.  The males have 10 stamens and a 10-veined calyx whereas females have 5 stamens and a 20-veined calyx.  In this photo, you can see the hairy stems and leaves.

Red Campion (Rödblära), Stockholm, Sweden (June 2011)

Red Campion (Rödblära), Stockholm, Sweden

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Last week I went for a walk in the woods in the suburbs just west of Boston and came across a very special flower.

White Trillium is a striking flower – found in the woods, where you wouldn’t expect it, its single white flower stands on a stalk above 3 broad leaves.  From the lilly family, this flower has several different names: “large-flowered trillium”, “white trillium” or “wake robin” (latin: Trillium grandiflorum).  The name “wake robin” comes from the fact that this flower blooms around the time the robin appears, during the spring time.


White Trillium, May 2011

The flowers usually are from 2 to 4 inches and turn pink with age, blooming from April through June. They grow from 12-18 inches high.  To distinguish between other trilliums, this one’s flower stands above the leaves instead of drooping  down.

This flower is unique in several ways. Firstly, it is native to Eastern North America – many of the plants I have posted about have been brought over from Europe, Asia or Africa.   Secondly, the seeds are mainly dispersed by ants!  this is not very common. This means the plant does not spread its seeds as far as other plants.  Thirdly, the seeds require double dormancy, meaning it takes 2 years to fully germinate.  Lastly, this plant is special because it is considered “vulnerable” (in Quebec and New York), or endangered (in Maine).  It is slow growing and its habitat has decreased and white-tailed deer (that have taken over what is left of the woods in Massachusetts, at least) love to eat it.  The flower is very pretty, but hard to cultivate – it is unclear whether those found at stores are taken from the wild or not because it hasn’t been show that much cultivation has been done.

White Trillium - 3 Broad Leaves

As always, you should never pick flowers!  Especially Trillium, which are rare and threatened.  Enjoy wildlife by observation, not by interaction with it. Leave the flowers and the woods as you found them.

Thanks very much to the wildflower sanctuary where I found these trillium – what a magical place!  It reminds me about how important land conservation is and how much I appreciate that people have made space available for people like me to enjoy nature.  Thank you!

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

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Daffodils appear around this time every year, giving them their name in some languages which translates into Easter Lilly (Swedish: påsklilja).  The French call this flower “jonquille”, which comes from the Latin name for one species, Narcissus jonquilla. The daffodil is also called “narcissus” after the Greek myth about Narcissus, a young man who became so obsessed with his own reflection in the water that he fell in and drowned.  The daffodil grew from the spot where he died.

The English name, “daffodil” doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with these other names, although Wikipedia does have a good possible explanation.  The name is arrived from an earlier name, “affodell” which came from “asphodel”. Perhaps the Dutch article, “de” was added to “affodell” and  we are left with “de affodil” = “daffodil”.

Daffodils grow in the wild here in Massachusetts, but it appears that they are not true wild flowers.  They aren’t in any of my North America Wildflowers books!  They are originally from Europe, North Africa and Asia.  They are so unique and striking, with a kind of trumpet-like corona and 6 petal-like leaves as a back drop.  There have been many different species cultivated, the coloring varies a lot.  The ones I came across on the Fens this week were all yellow.

Daffodil (Narcissus), Boston, April 2011

The daffodil is a member of the Amaryllis family, along with snowdrops.  This family of plants are bulbed with narrow grasslike leaves and showy 6-parted often lily-like flowers.  They are not lilies because their “petals” are attached to or part of the seed receptacle (Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers).

Daffodils have been  around for a long time, wow-ing their admirers and even inspiring poetry.  Here is William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” about this beautiful flower in 1804.

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Daffodil (Narcissus), Boston, April 2011

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I didn’t grow up eating kale, I didn’t even know what kale was until a few years ago.  It’s a very nutritious green and leafy vegetable.  There are a million websites out there calling it a “superfood” because it is packed with anti-oxidants and vitamins.  I like that it has a bit of taste to it and is strong enough to be able to handle some stir-frying in garlic (unlike spinach, which wilts and disappears in the pan).

Today I was in the mood for some kale, so I picked up a bunch at the local Whole Foods.  When I started cutting it up to put in the pan, I found that there were flowers hidden on the inside!

Kale flowers hidden inside


What luck!  While waiting for spring to arrive with wild flowers, I got a few flowers by accident at the store!  So I decided to do a little research on kale.  It is, no surprise here, a crucifer with typical 4 petal-ed cross-like flowers  Kale is a type of cabbage, but unlike the cabbage that usually comes to mind, kale’s leaves turn outward instead of forming a head.  It is a member of the Brassica oleracea group, along with broccoli, cauliflower collard greens and brussel sprouts (see wikipedia).  These veggies look so different, it’s amazing they are so closely related!  I looked up pictures of kale and I had no idea that it was used as an ornamental plant – the flowering kales are quite pretty!  The grocery store kale isn’t ornamental but I still enjoyed finding the flowers.


I decided to see what kale is called in other languages – surprisingly most other languages don’t seem to differentiate between kale and other forms of cabbage (kål and chou mean cabbage, not specifically kale).  It appears that “kale” is related to the word for kale/cabbage in Swedish, “kål”.  This got me wondering… where do we get the word cabbage from, then?  I came across a great site that describes the history of cabbage!  Basically, cabbage used to be called coleworts or colewyrts (a primitive cabbage – what a terrible name!) and it came from a group of plants called coles or caulis (recognize cauliflower? and collards?) which means “stem”.  We get the modern “cabbage” from the French “caboche” which means head (or according to google translate, “noggin”).

Who knew there was so much to learn from the kale in the grocery store!  Kale has made a come back – popular during World War II as a hearty healthy vegetable to grow on your own, kale disappeared until it was recently rediscovered.  Thank you, Whole Foods, it’s hard to find good kale without you!


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Over the past few weeks, lilacs have bloomed all over Stockholm.  Wafts of their perfume would stop me in my tracks.  People say ‘stop and smell the roses’ but I am much more likely to stop to smell lilacs.

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

When I asked a friend what they are called in Swedish, she said ‘syrener’.  I thought that she was calling them ‘sirens’ after the greek mythological creatures who lure sailors with their music to die on the rocky shores of their island.  It turns out that was just my imagination going a little wild with the Swedish language.  The Swedes call lilacs syrener after their genus’ name, Syringa, which comes from the word ‘syrinx’, meaning hollow tube or pipe.  Apparently the shoots of lilacs can be hollowed out to make reed pipes and flutes (I haven’t checked this out yet).

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

Native to southeast Europe, lilacs in Sweden are ornamental.  The first ones to bloom were light to dark purple and now I see white ones at their peak.  This deciduous shrub is from the olive family.

Lilacs (Syrener), Stockholm, Sweden

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Southern Öland’s landscape can be divided into two categories.  There is the Stora Alvaret covering the middle of the island, with a shallow layer of soil over limestone.  Then, on either side of this plain is farm land.  Although developed by humans, I still found the farmers’ fields beautiful.  Some had horses, cows and sheep.  Many had plots of land that stretched to the Baltic that were solid yellow.  At first I thought these fields of yellow were wildflowers that had taken over but it turns out the fields were rapeseed.

Field of Rapeseed (raps), Öland, Sweden

Brassica napus is from the mustard family and is used to make rapeseed oil (rapsolja in Swedish), what we call vegetable oil back home in the states.  Rapeseed can also be used for animal feed and as a biodeisel fuel.

There are two subspecies of ‘raps’ (the Swedish name for this plant) in Sweden that can be distinguished based on the size and shape of the root.  I did not dig any up to find out, though.  The turnip-root is how the plant got its name, ‘napus’ is from the Greek word ‘nape’, which means turnip.  It is Sweden’s most important domestic oil plant, the seeds contain 30-40% oil.

Rapeseed Flower (Raps) Öland, Sweden

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