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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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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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It’s a snow-less winter so far, so it is not quite as colorless as this time last year. But nevertheless, the dull browns and grays are tiresome, and that is why this little spot of red I caught looking for food was a thrill over the holidays.

Pileated Woodpecker, Massachusetts, Dec 2011

This bird is called a Pileated Woodpecker. You can tell this particular one is a male because there is a red line from the beak to the throat (instead of a black one on females). The loud noise it makes pecking holes in trees looking for insects makes the woodpecker’s presence known. I wonder how its brain is protected from all that banging against a tree? As a child, I thought all woodpeckers were similar to the cartoon Woody Woodpecker (hence the title of this post), but I don’t think the woody woodpecker call is the same as the pileated one from nature.

This bird also brings to mind the drawing of pileated woodpeckers by John James Audubon (retrieved from wikicommons). In his drawing, you can see that they eat insects from trees and berries.  Females are on the top, males are on the bottom and you can get a gimpse of the white underside of the wings.

John James Audubon - Pileated Woodpecker

 

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I saw this flower in both Stockholm and in Massachusetts. It is quite unique; 2 yellow lips upward, 3 yellow lips downward, and a yellow spur that extends back. Its unique orange middle (a swollen corolla tube) is the egg in the middle of all the butter, which gives it the name “butter-and-eggs”.  It is also known as common toadflax (Latin:  Linaria vulgaris).  Toadflax comes from the corolla’s “mouth” looking like a toad’s mouth and the leaves look like those of Flax.  I found these in a field on the south shore of Massachusetts in early October.

Common Toadflax, Hingham, MA October 2011

Butter-and-eggs can be found in roadsides, waste places, dry fields from June through Oct in the North East U.S. and July through Sept in Sweden (throughout).  It is a member of the snapdragon family.  The flowers are in stalked spikes and its narrow leaves go up the stems.

I found the following flowers in a construction site in Stockholm on my way to work in August, still wet with rain.

Gulsporre, Stockholm, Sweden, July, 2011

In Swedish, this flower is called Gulsporre which means yellow spur.  I found it growing in an area that had been torn up for construction of a road in late July.

Gulsporre, Stockholm, Sweden July, 2011

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In August in Maine, I found this white flower growing on the edge of a marsh.  The flowers branch off delicately from one stalk and have 3 roundish waxy-looking petals. This species appears to be the grass-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) because I think these leaves were lance-like or grasslike, although I didn’t get a picture of them.  Other arrowheads have arrowhead-shaped leaves, which is where this family of flowers gets its name.  This could be a broad-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) which is the most common species and leaves can be variable (arrowhead-shaped and lance-shaped leaves within the same species) but I am unsure.  Arrowheads are aquatic and grow near pond edges in quiet, shallow water.

Grass-Leaved Arrowhead, Southern Maine, August, 2011

Grass-Leaved Arrowhead, Southern Maine, August, 2011

Another name for this plant is “Duck Potato”.  Small 1-2 inch potato-like tubers form at the ends of long subterranean runners that originate at the base of each plant.  You can use these tubers like a potato. Gather them by freeing them from the mud with a hoe or rake and collect them as they float to the water’s surface. According to my “Edible Wild Plants” Peterson Field Guide, these tubers are unpleasant raw but taste very good when cooked.  Collect them in the fall to early spring.  Maybe I will try to find some now that it is fall!

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I almost missed them – they bloomed while I was busy and are just starting to lose their petals now.  There was an article recently in the Boston Globe about the magnolia trees on Commonwealth Avenue  which are certainly magnificent.  There is a place in my heart, though, for the magnolias on Marlborough Street (parallel to Comm Ave) because I lived there once and that’s where I fell in love with them.  I took a few pictures of the magnolias still blooming May 2nd, 2011.

Magnolia on Marlborough

Magnolia Flower

Magnolia Flowers, May 2, 2011

Magnolia in the Back Bay

Magnolia Flower, without petals

I posted last year about the magnolia trees blooming in North Carolina in March, check it out for some more background information on magnolias.  It’s interesting to compare the species – the ones in Boston are clearly different.

Here’s a little more from the Peterson guide (1958 edition) about magnolias – thank you Aunt JoAnn!

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The common mallard, or green-headed duck, is the type of duck we see on ponds and lakes, especially in urban parks.  The ducks near my apartment live in the Back Bay Fens where there is water and marshland and plenty of people to throw them some bread crumbs.

January in Boston, Massachusetts

I was so impressed with the color of these ducks’ heads, I had to take some pictures.  How bright and radiant the color green!  And how orange the bill and feet!

Common Mallard, Boston, MA in January

Male Common Mallards, January

You can tell he is in his mating plumage because of the green head. When not in mating season, the males look similar to the females with drab brown heads but still have the bright orange beaks.

The female ducks were nearby as well, brown with a blue stripe on the wings.

Male and Female Common Mallards, January in Boston

Common Mallards, Male and Female, January in Boston

I just learned about this new site, Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), and I think I’ll be using it much more from now on.  EOL has a good description of the common mallard and has several links to other sites with good information.

I also came across an interesting and different way of learning about ducks recently, specifically learning about their mating habits which were not what I imagined… I was listening to Science Friday on NPR, and the guest, Isabella Rossellini (an actress and film maker), was discussing her new show on the Sundance Channel (www.sundancechannel.com).  The series, called Seduce Me, describes the mating habits of several animals in a kind of funny way, acting them out with puppets and people.  After watching the duck episode I will never think of ducks the same again…(a little rated R, just to warn you!).  Check it out here.  In a nutshell: Male ducks have corkscrew penises and force copulation. The vaginal canals of female ducks have evolved to be like a maze – the male duck that the female would like to mate with will have a higher chance of successfully mating with her.  Pretty interesting!

Well it snowed here again today… not very much but enough to make my hopes of spring dampened a bit.  Snowdrops and crocuses are out, though, so spring is starting!  I can’t wait to post more about flowers.

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