Tag Archive | wildflowers

Allegheny Monkey Flower

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.

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Pearly Everlasting

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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.

Wild St. John’s Wort

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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!

Room For Wild Insects

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Wild bees and butterflies thrive on the abundance of flowers from what many would consider weeds.  Field flowers like clover, daisy, Black-eyed Susan, milk weed, aster, dandelion, bindweed vetch, and the flowers of the grasses provide a banquet of nectar and pollen to support the insects.  Song birds also use the wild plant seeds and nectar and eat the insects.  Compared to a wild field, a lawn is as sterile as a desert for the bugs. Cultivated flowers don’t produce the plethora of nutrients provided by wild plants.

g3With the dire reports one reads of the decrease in the populations of wild bumblebee and other bees and butterfly populations, I’ve decided to dedicate areas on our farm for these insects.  Places that are difficult to mow have now become insect sanctuaries.  The steep side of our septic system has always been a problem to mow.  I once had the horses crop it for me.  This year I fenced it so that the area was allowed to grow naturally.  Wildflowers quickly filled the space.  Another rough area is now dedicated to jewelweed, the hummingbird’s favorite flower.

I also let wildflowers like milkweed, mullein, thistle and wild carrot grow along the fencelines and the edges of the orchards and hayfields.  To produce hay, pasture and apples, grass and wildflowers must be mowed.  But they do not need to be entirely eradicated.  There is plenty of space around the edges for flowers and butterflies.  I wish all farmers, gardeners and lawn owners could find room for the wild plants and not pull all the weeds or dose everything with weed killer.g1

Green Fringed Orchid

or1This 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.or2  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.or3

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.

Jewelweed

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Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Not, as I’ve always called it, is a native North American wildflower (Impatiens capensis) with many uses.  The beautiful little spotted orange fairy hat-like flowers are favored by hummingbirds.  a1I allow a large patch of jewelweed to grow in an uneven, partially-shaded part of my yard, just for the hummingbirds.

When the jewelweed begins to bloom, the tiny birds abandon the sugar water feeder for the flowers.  Nectar is a better source of hummingbird nutrition than anything humans create.  The nectar gathers in the curled receptacle at the far end of the flower where long-tonged creatures like butterflies and hummingbirds can reach.  Other insects nibble a hole in the curl to get at the nectar.a4

Beyond feeding birds, this plant has many uses.  It is recognized as an anti-inflammatory for topical use.  The stem juice of the succulent annual can be rubbed on insect stings and rashes to bring relief.  The seeds are also edible and are reported to have a walnut-like flavor. I’ve never tried any.

The reason this plant is called Touch-Me-Not is due to the seed cases.  The plant has two types of flowers, one with petals and one that is rounded and doesn’t open petals.  When this round flower matures, it produces a long case resembling a pea pod.  A light touch causes the case to explode, its sections curling tightly and at the same time spraying the seeds for distribution. When I was small I delighted in popping the seed pods.  Still do, actually.a3

The name Jewelweed is attributed to either the jewel-like colors of the flower or the water-repellent quality of the plant.  Water beads on the surfaces and when the sun shines, the droplets glimmer like diamonds.  I took some photos after a rain to demonstrate the water repellency.

This unassuming little plant has been embraced by the natural remedies crowd.  It apparently contains a chemical that is the active ingredient in Preparation H. The anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic qualities of the plant juice are captured in salves, tinctures and soaps. Reportedly, the Native Americans depended on this plant, a natural pharmacy growing in the woods.a5
****UPDATE: I have since written an update to this blog (Aug 23, 2014) and believe the information in this article about how the plant produces seeds is incorrect. The round flowers are the buds and they develop into full flowers. The seed pods form at the end of the stem after the flower drops.****

Swamp Candles

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An oddly romantic name for a wildflower, Swamp Candles are also called Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia terrestris,) and they are native to North America.  I had never seen this flower until I found it while mowing with the tractor.  A wet area near our orchard was covered with the Candles in full bloom. Before mowing them all, I did a bit of research.

Yellow Loosestrife, from the Primrose family, is actually endangered in Kentucky and Tennessee.  The plant grows in moist spots such as the edges of ponds and streams, or in marshes.  a2It is a perennial reaching about 24″-32″ height.  The flowers are striking, growing on a tall raceme.  The five yellow petals have red dots at the base with each flower forming a star.

I was able to preserve a good-sized area of the Candles.  Since they have not bloomed here before, I’m not certain where they came from or if they will appear again next year.  The place where they grow changes it’s flora over the years.  Sometimes it will be all fern, other years, blue flag iris pops up, or swamp grasses.  In very dry years, field grass predominates.  This year was wet, perhaps giving the loosestrife seeds the upper hand.
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a4Several flower stalks were pushed down by the tractor, and I salvaged them to make a bouquet. The blooms lasted four or five days. They would be excellent fillers or good for adding height in a large arrangement.