During a recent walk on our farm I found this patch of white flowers. The single leaf has a distinctive growth habit of wrapping around the flower stem. The early blooming spring plant is called bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. It is native to northeastern North America. Bloodroot grows in moist to dry conditions, from woods to floodplains, in full sun to shade. I did not detect any fragrance in the flowers.
Bloodroot has a rhizome that grows close to the surface. It sends out shoots in early spring and is pollinated by bees and flies. The flowers produce pollen, but no nectar. The plant is spread by ants who carry the seeds away to their colonies to eat the attached elaoisomes. After the flower is pollinated and the petals drop, the leaf enlarges and unfurls. By the time the seeds develop, the leaves begin to yellow and die away. The plant then goes dormant until next spring.
Bloodroot earned its name from the bright red juice in the rhizome. When the root is damaged, it appears to bleed. Bloodroot is poisonous. The chemicals in the sap can burn the skin. In times of old, people used the juice to burn away warts and even cancer. It was a dangerous and somewhat ineffective treatment that often resulted in severe skin damage. The plant extract was also touted as a cure all and sometimes ingested. Its use has been linked to cancerous growth in the mouth due to skin damage.
So it is best to enjoy the fleeting beauty of bloodroot flowers from a distance. Do not pick or otherwise disturb this wild spring beauty.
As I was cutting the pasture with the rotary mowing machine to keep the weeds down and encourage the grass, I spotted one of these plants. It is a pearly everlasting, a native Maine wildflower. Some quick maneuvering saved the plant from disaster.
The scientific name is Anaphalis margaritacea and it is related to asters. It is a perennial with either male or female plants. I can’t tell the sex of this plant by looking so will wait to see if it produces seeds.
As the name suggests, this flower works well for dried arrangements, retaining its pearly white bract color rather than fading to beige. The foliage has a silvery cast with a pleasant scent when crushed.
Pearly Everlasting has medicinal uses for native peoples including sore throat, headache and diarrhea relief. The plant parts can also be used to create yellow, gold, green or brown dyes. Its most valuable use after dried arrangements is as a favored food source of the Painted Lady butterfly larvae. I will be looking for seeds to collect from this plant to spread in my wildflower insect reserves.
These plants grow wild in the unmowed areas of our farm. I decided to identify them because the little red berries they produce are intriguing. I wondered if they were edible. Turns out this plant is St. John’s Wort. There are two native species in my bouquet: Hypericum boreale or Northern St. John’s Wort, a wetland variety, and Hypericum punctatum or Spotted St. John’s Wort that grows in drier locations.
The boreale is smaller and near the center of the photo with the red berries. Its flowers are bright yellow and it is common in cranberry bogs. At first I mistook this plant for some sort of odd cranberry. The spotted variety has golden-yellow flowers. The leaves of both plants have tiny transparent pores. The pores are visible on some of the leaves in the foreground of my photo.
I had difficulty telling the Spotted St. John’s Wort from Hypericum perforatum, Common St. John’s Wort, that thrives as an introduced plant in Maine. The spotted has more black dots and lines on the petals than the common.
The plant is recognized for its medicinal qualities and is used as a remedy skin injuries and muscle aches, even depression. It is actually labeled as a poisonous plant because it contains strong compounds including an anti-inflammatory. Some are sensitive to the plant’s oil so care should be taken when handling.
Crushing the flower leaves a reddish resinous stain on the fingers. The red juices contain the medicinal elements. The plant is recommended by herbalists to treat such a wide range of ailments that it sounds like a panacea. The flowers and tender leaves are infused in olive or other fine oils to create a red-colored medicinal oil. I will not be eating the little red berries the plant produces!
This time of year little orchids can be found blooming in the fields among the grasses and clover. They are green fringed orchids, Platanthera lacera. I found this one just opening its blossoms in the orchard. The plant stands about one foot tall. When the flowers are fully open the plant resembles a bottle brush. Lacera is Latin for “torn” or “ragged” referring to the whiskery labellum or petal-like lower part of the flower.
The green fringed orchid is a perennial preferring acidic soil. It grows in boggy to dry conditions and is a more common orchid of the northeastern US. I have found several in hayfields. Sadly, they tend to get mowed before they can bloom.
We also have purple and yellow fringed orchids here in Maine, but I have never found them on our farm.
The fringed orchids emit fragrance during the night that attracts moths, their pollinators.
It always makes me happy to find one of these orchids when I’m out for a walk in the field.
Summer wildflowers bloom in profusion and make opulent bouquets. Black-eyed susans, golden rod and tiny white asters fill a vase in the window.