This pretty purple flower is a recently established plant on the banks of the farm pond. The seeds were probably carried there by wild birds. Following my new policy of identifying any unknown plants in case they are invasive pests, I looked this little beauty up. It is the Allegheny Monkey Flower, (Mimulus ringens) also written monkeyflower or monkey-flower. Presumably someone sees a monkey face when they look at the bloom. I actually don’t. But, I do see a very pretty and bright flower in an otherwise green landscape.
The monkey flower has a square stem. It grows in wetland habitats, just above the water line where it is moist, but not inundated. I found three plants. Next year there will doubtless be more if they fruit successfully. The plant is native to New England. Where wetland has been disturbed and invasive purple loosestrife have taken hold, the monkey flower is out competed by loosestrife because pollinators tend to favor the invasive flowers. Happily for the monkey flower, there is no purple loosestrife allowed at our pond.
Monkey flower blooms June-September. It forms seed pods that split open when ripe. The plant is a perennial of the Lopseed family. It acts as a host to larvae of the Baltimore Checkerspot and Common Buckeye butterflies. Overall, this wildflower seems innocuous, even beneficial. It surely adds beauty as the flowers are my favorite color. It may stay on our farm.
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.
Sometimes wildflowers volunteer in the garden. In most cases I welcome these primitive cousins of garden flowers. In slightly cultivated situations where the conditions are very favorable for the plant, a wildflower can produce quite a show. Right now the False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) is in full bloom. What began as one small plant years ago has now grown into a large clump of foamy white flowers. The late spring flowers become red berries in fall. I’m not sure what this plant is lying about to be called false. To me it bears little resemblance to its relative, true Solomon’s Seal.
False Solomon’s Seal has an edible shoot that can be gathered and cooked like asparagus in the early spring. I prefer to allow my plants to grow unharvested, since I’ve got plenty of real asparagus to enjoy.
Another woodland denizen that has settled in my garden is Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum.) As children, we loved to search for these flowers in the forest and lift the hood to find the hidden “jack” saying his prayers.
The jack is really a fleshy stem called a spadix that is covered with tiny male and female flowers. This Jack in the Pulpit grows near the False Solomon’s Seal. Both prefer the same moist, dappled shade environment.
Jack in the Pulpit is pollinated by flies and produces a clump of shiny red berries in the fall. The plant contains oxylates and should not be consumed.
Landscaping with wild flowers gives a natural feeling to the homestead. I never take plants from the wild, only encourage ones that show up in the rock gardens. Wild plants are more environmentally friendly. They are ideally adapted to the local climate and do not require the care domesticated plants need to survive, such as water during droughts. There will always be room in my garden for the wildflowers.
The two major early wildflowers found in our woods are in full bloom. Trillium and trout lilies spread throughout the shady undergrowth, providing a perennial show. Trillium are named for their three maroon petals. Trout lilies have mottled leaves that resemble the side of a fish. The lilies are also called dog toothed violets, why, I’m not sure.
The lilies grow in huge communities, carpeting the forest. Clumps of trillium occur with three or more stems in a bunch, one flower per stem. Some trillium bunches become large, expanding around the parent. Others grow in solitary clumps.
Trillium are known as Stinking Benjamin due to the scent of the flowers. They smell like carrion and must pollinate via the flies that breed on the dead. As children we would dare each other to smell the flowers. Now-a-days I know better, they are foul in odor. But, very pretty to look at and one of the constants of spring.