Sunday, September 13, 2009

29. Rough-fruited Cinquefoil

Also called Sulphur Cinquefoil, Potentilla recta is part of the Rose Family of wildflowers. The pale yellow flower has five heart-shaped leaves and numerous stamens and pistils. Though considered a wildflower in England, here in the U.S. it is officially considered a noxious weed in several Western states. Found in dry fields, Rough-fruited Cinquefoil is ignored by cattle, which may have something to do with the lamentable label the flower holds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

28. Starflower

It's been a cold, wet spring here in New England.  I have several photographs of unidentified wildflowers I'm slowly trying to make my way through: I was pretty sure I knew the common name of this one, and, unlike several others I thought similarly about, I was right, for once.  Around here we have the Northern or Eastern Starflower (Trientalis borealis), whose beauty is hard to show with my camera.

The Starflower has seven petals that form the shape that gives the plant its name, and have lanceolate leaves arranged in a whorled pattern.  A woodland perennial, it is common to a large swath of the eastern and central portions of both the U.S. and Canada.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

27. Eastern White Pine

Got out ye old camera and set up the tripod at the sliding glass door yesterday. Brrrrrrr. I tried to get everything set before I opened the door, but even then, we had a bit of wintry weather make its way indoors. I'll have to go out and see (by number and type of needles per cluster and tree shape, according to The Tree Identification Book I picked up at a local Audubon gift shop) if we have any other evergreen trees growing in our backyard.

The largest, most common New England conifer, Pinus strobus can reach one hundred or so feet in height (worrisome during wind- and icestorms--we had half of one come down this past December, but luckily it was well away from the house). Its branches are nearly horizontal, and the needles grow in bundles of five.

Friday, October 24, 2008

26. Sugar Maple

One of the most gorgeously colored trees around here, Acer saccharum is known also as "Hard maple" or "Rock maple" in addition to its well-known common name. While it is much sought-after as furniture wood, the Sugar Maple is the source of that sweetest of the sweet, oh-so-delicious treat to eat, maple syrup. Each tree yields between five and sixty gallons of sap per year, and it takes thirty-two gallons of Sugar Maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup or four-and-a-half pounds of maple sugar. My ten-year-old says, "I want a box of maple sugar on my birthday." Seriously, he does. Though he's been inspired by the song, "Wells Fargo Wagon," which our chorus is currently singing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

25. Sassafras

I was excited to find this leaf among what we gathered yesterday for our "family tree of plants." Not only do I like saying the name, but the oddly shaped leaves of Sassafras albidum make a refreshing change from the maples and oaks that abound in this area. My seven-year-old found this leaf and I hope she can show me where tomorrow, so we can find all three shapes in which these leaves present themselves.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

24. Oriental or Asiatic Bittersweet

Celastrus orbiculatus is considered a noxious weed in the state of Massachusetts. Evidently this vine can smother plants over which it grows, and its weight can cause other plants to be uprooted, and it is displacing American Bittersweet, according to The National Park Service. Ah, well--it's fall colors are pretty, and I have wound it around our front yard's lamppost as a decoration in years past.

23. White Oak

This time I didn't have my camera on our walk. This leaf is from a very young specimen of an important lumber tree, Quercus alba, also called "Stave Oak," because the wood is used for making whiskey barrels and barrels for other liquids. Used for shipbuilding in colonial times.

22. Yellow Poplar

Unfortunately, the tree I found had very few yellow leaves on it, hence my decision to photograph just the one leaf. If I can get a good photo when the tree changes completely, I'll add it here. It should be beautiful in full autumn splendor.

Liriodendron tulipifera, or "Tuliptree" or "Tulip-Poplar," as the Yellow Poplar is also called, has "large showy flowers resembling tulips or lilies" in the springtime (National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees, Eastern Region, p. 436). I'll definitely be on the lookout come spring.

21. Pignut Hickory

After a month's hiatus, here is my next entry: Carya glabra, the "Pignut," "Smoothbark Hickory," or "Broom Hickory." There are many of these along our street, and I'm pretty sure I've got the right hickory, as it's leaves are not aromatic when crushed ("Mockernut" or "White Hickory") and it doesn't have shaggy bark (Shagbark, "Scalybark," or "Shellbark" Hickory). It mostly has five leaflets, but I saw one or two twigs with seven leaflets. Its wood has been has been used historically to make brooms, wagon wheels and loom picker sticks, and is still used for tool handles and skis.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

20. Staghorn Sumac

Got this photo of Rhus typhina (hirta) a few weeks ago when the berries were bright. I walked by this spot on Sunday and the berries look dark and drying. Part of the Cashew family (others in this family include poison ivy and mango), the leaves of the Staghorn Sumac as well as the Dwarf and Smooth Sumacs turn red in the fall.

Monday, September 08, 2008

19. Annual ragweed

Will have to go back out (do I dare? Ah-choo, ah-choo!) and see if I can get a more recent picture of the lovely crop of Ambrosia artemisiifolia currently blooming. Part of the aster family.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

18. Buckwheat

The leaves of Fagopyrum esculentum are beautifully arrow-shaped and emerald green. I brought a stem with a flowering head in to my kitchen windowsill, and got to see one of the flowers begin to turn to that familiar triangular buckwheat hull.

There is a great recipe for Kasha Varnishkas in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley, but the preparation is a bit labor intensive for this 30-minute (or less) meal gal. The homemade vegetarian gravy makes the dish! The leeks and portobello mushrooms make this a great fall dish.

17. Nodding Smartweed

Polygonum Lapathifolium is part of the Buckwheat family. Something interesting about this plant is that its stems are jointed, and reminded me of bamboo a bit, espcially with the long thin leaves that occur near the flowers. Other names for this plant include Pale, Water, or Dock-Leaf Smartweed.

16. Bittersweet Nightshade

This tiny jewel of a flower was the only one still open in the area (the boundary between the backyard and the woods that abut them), and I was so pleased to find it. Unfortunately, either my camera does not have a setting for extreme close-ups or I just haven't found it yet. I've actually come across Solanum dulcamara before now, but the flowers had already borne fruit, which made it harder for me to recognize. (How many red-berried plants can there be within walking distance of my house? Answer: perhaps too many to identify.) Part of the potato family, this climbing, vine-like wildflower is also called Purple Nightshade, and its berries are, in the words of Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, "somewhat poisonous."

15. Bull Thistle

This big fella had me stumped, due to where I found it. Cirsium vulgare is generally found along roadsides, in fields, and in waste places. And this thistle was all by its lonesome at the side of one of the dampest areas of a wooded path. Must be Marsh or Swamp Thistle, thought I. No, those have smooth, not thorny stems. And this one was definitely thorny, as you can see by the "rigid, yellow-tipped spines on the flower bracts" (Dwelley, 347). An interesting aspect to this particular plant is that its leaves do not look fully developed. Perhaps the sparsity of sunlight made the plant conserve where it could (i.e., less developed leaves) while still allowing the flower to bloom and the plant to reproduce? Will have to check.

Monday, August 18, 2008

14. Indian Pipe

Here, at last, is O.'s find: Monotropa uniflora, or Corpse Plant, as it is also known. I might have missed this one, thinking is was a fungus instead of a plant, and, indeed it is a saphrophytic plant, feeding on decaying organic matter. The flower nods at first, then turns upright in fruit,
and eventually turns black. It also turns black when picked (which I read but also saw when O. originally brought his discovery home, but forgot to photograph). The stems are scaly, and the entire plant is waxy. Part of the Heath Family. If you can see what surrounds the Indian Pipe in the lower photo, you'll know why O. now sports a nice rash on his chin.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

13. Spotted Touch-Me-Not

These lovely little orange flowers are Impatiens capensis. Also called "jewelweed" and "quick-in-the-hand," Spotted Touch-Me-Not has seed capsules that, when ripe (in autumn), burst at the merest touch, scattering seeds all around. Also historically used as a remedy for hemorrhoids, among a few other complaints.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

12. Common or Highbush Blackberry

Quickberry, Quackberry,
Pick me a blackberry!
Trainberry, trackberry,

Rumble and ramble
in blackberry bramble
Billions of berries
for blackberry jamble!

From Jamberry, by Bruce Degen, one of M.'s favorites, and probably his favorite four pages of the whole thing (the train).

These blackberries (Rubus allegheniesnsis (argutus)) were much sweeter than the ones I bought at the organic farm stand two days ago. I need to figure out what to do with those--they are too tart to eat. Now, blackberry jam, blackberry vinegar, or blackberry wine? Though I have to say I had a lovely black raspberry margarita tonight, and could see what I could do to make a blackberry syrup to add to the tequila next time around.

Blackberries are another one of those historical cure-alls, especially for boils, blackheads, rheumatism, and "piles." Now what made people in olden times get those last ailments so often--did they really sit around more than we do in front of our computers, or is it just that their seat options weren't as cushy? Inquiring minds don't really want to know.

11. Hedge Bindweed

Calystegia (Convolvulus) sepium jumped out at me on a walk with my younger son and dog this afternoon. It was all alone in (what else?) a hedge (for which the Latin word is sepes) that borders a path in our wilderness-surrounded neighborhood. I lifted M. up to see this lovely pink flower, and the response I got was, "Mmm, pretty. Can we go home now?" Older son O. has been avidly searching on his own in the woods, and has an exciting find I'll share as soon as we get a good picture (camera was on the wrong setting when I sent him back into the woods to photograph it, darn it).

Part of the morning glory family.

From the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England:

Smooth, twining vine. Flowers 3", funnel-shaped, 5-lobed, pink to white, white-striped. Leaves arrowhead-shaped. Blooms June-Sept. Habitat Watersides, thickets.

Friday, August 15, 2008

10. Common Mullein

Verbascum thaspus is an interesting plant with much history in its past. Since the down on the leaves and stem burns readily when dry, it was used both as a torch in ancient times and for lamp wicks before cotton was introduced, hence the nickname, "Candlewick Plant." Its shape also suggests a tall candle, so several other nicknames for this species have some variation of light in the name, such as "Hedge Taper" and "Our Lady's Candle."

Its use as an herbal remedy is as old as many of its numerous nicknames. "Clown's Lung Wort" was used to treat coughs, nasal congestion, and consumption, as well as other complaints of the lungs. Concoctions made from various parts of the plant were said to relieve as diverse symptoms as diarrhea, hemorrhoids, colic, migraine, splinters, asthma, frost bite, bruises, toothache, cramps, convulsions, gout, possession by evil spirits, and gray hair, among other things. I actually used mullein oil (bought at Whole Foods) to treat an earache or two in my family years ago, but didn't know of this herb's reputation for healing other ailments at the time.

To read more, visit the Great Mullein page in A Modern Herbal at

In addition to its illustrious history, common mullein also has an interesting life cycle. During its first year, it exists only as a leafy plant with no center stalk:
The stalk appears during the second year of the plant's growth. The leaves, as they go up the stalk, get smaller. This fact, along with the leaves' arrangement on the stalk, allows rain to be funneled down to the base of the plant. Another way mullein survives--it can self-pollinate in the absence of friendly insect visits.