While we’re all staying home and not doing group outings, Annette Seidenglanz will be taking us on a virtual tour of wildflowers (and other plants to be found in Vermont). She’s provided us so many posts we’ve separated them by month. Check back daily for updates!
There are a number of great resources to do research on native plants. Here are just a few:
- For New England especially: gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org
- University of Texas at Austin Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center: wildflower.org/plants
- For info on historic Native American plant uses: naeb.brit.org
For more information about taxonomy and plant families, including recent advances with DNA identification, here’s a good link: https://letstalkscience.ca/educational-resources/backgrounders/classification-life-linnaeus-dna-barcoding
June 23: Erythanthe moschata has several common names: Muskflower, Musk Monkeyflower, Eyebright and Musk Plant. It is a member of a small family called the Lopseeds. It is more commonly distributed and diverse in the northwestern United States and Australia but may be native to the northeast, as well.
Muskflower is a perennial plant. It has oval, opposite leaves on an upright stem or it may grow lying down. It has sticky, hairy leaves and stems. These plants in the photograph were carpeting a small, stepped rise next to a sunny stream bank. There were no others visible in the vicinity. The yellow flowers are trumpet-shaped with a tube-like base, opening out like a bell with five lobes. Some see a small face like a monkey in the flower’s corolla.
The flowers may be white, red or most commonly a light orange. These flowers are also a favorite of hummingbirds and bees and a good source for honey. Native Americans used it as a traditional medicine and as a floral hair ornament.
In 1913, for reasons that are unknown, the Muskflower lost its scent. Popular as a fragrance in the Victorian era, the loss of scent became a source of intense speculation especially in the 1920s and 1930s. It was used as an alternative source of the musk scent in the perfume industry, instead of using the glands of animals like the Asian Musk Deer which is now an endangered species. Fortunately, musk is now produced synthetically.
June 22: Interrupted Fern or Osmunda claytoniana is native to the northeastern United States and Canada and also, east Asia. The group of Interrupted Fern, Cinnamon Fern, Sensitive Fern and Ostrich Fern all grow in the same natural community of moist forest.
This fern is named and notable for the placement of the spore segments on the fronds. Usually, three to seven fertile sections can be found in the center section of the stem with leaves growing above and below. It is very similar in form to the Cinnamon Fern before the spore segments appear.
Interrupted Fern has a deep history in the plant kingdom. It has remained biologically unchanged since the Triassic period when Earth’s land masses were mostly a supercontinent. Fossilized samples of Claytoniana have been discovered to be around 180 million years old.
Osmunda claytoniana is named after John Clayton, a colonial botanist from England who is known to have lived in Virginia in the 1720s. Clayton was also honored with the botanical name of Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica.
June 21: Common Yarrow or Achillea millefolium is a member of the Aster Family. It is a perennial and native to North America as well as other areas in Eurasia. It prefers fields and open woodland areas. This plant was found growing in a group in a grassy location with plenty of sunlight and few trees.
The leaves of the yarrow plant make it easy to identify, even before it blooms. The soft, feathery leaves grow spirally up the stem with the larger leaves at the bottom. The white blooms form an umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers at the top of each stem. Each bloom array is composed of ray and disk flowers, like others in the Aster Family. The name mille folium denotes many flowers.
Yarrow is used by birds to line their nests and may inhibit the growth of parasites. It is a food source for many insects including ladybugs.
It has a very distinctive smell, like amber with an acrid quality. It was used in beer brewing in the European Middle Ages imparting a bitter flavor similar to hops. Micro breweries have renewed the practice of using yarrow more recently. This flavoring is known as gruit.
Achillea, the genus name, refers to Achilles, hero of the Trojan War, as Yarrow has been used to stop the bleeding of wounds in the folk medicines of many cultures. It is also used in Ayurvedic treatment. And, First Nations people across the country have used Yarrow for many ailments. Yarrow’s Chinese name is Yāngshí Cao and the flowers are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The dried stalks of Yarrow are also used in I Ching divination. The stalks are dropped from a bunch and the reader interprets the shape of the stalks as they resemble Chinese characters to give advice or resolve dilemmas.
June 20: Cinnamon Fern or Osmundastrum cinnamomeum is a species native to North America, South America and east Asia. These ferns were found growing in an upland woodland in a shady area near a small stream in Stowe.
The plant has sterile fronds which are the green leafy parts of the plant which can grow up to five feet tall in the shape of a vase. An identifying feature of this fern is the brown-colored fibers at the base of the fronds.
The fertile fronds which carry the spores are shorter and grow in the center of the plant. The fertile frond is the brown wand-shaped growth in the second photograph. The fertile fronds begin their growth as green fiddleheads, then fronds and finally change to a brown cinnamon color as they remain throughout the summer. They continue to shed spores throughout the summer and into the colder months when the green leafy fronds die back.
The green fronds can grow quite large and colonies form widely in moist areas. The Abenaki have used the Cinnamon Fern as a food source. It has traditional medicinal uses by other First Nations people, as well.
Cinnamon Fern is classed as a “living fossil” from the Jurassic Period, as it has been seen fossilized at least 75 – 180 million years ago.
June 19: Germander Speedwell or Veronica chamaedrys is a member of the Plantain Family. It is a perennial native to Eurasia. Also known as Bird’s Eye and Cat’s Eyes.
These plants were found by a field, trailside in Stowe, growing with Orange Hawkweed, Clover, Buttercups and Blue-eyed Grass. It prefers sunny locations like fields and is tolerant of many different environmental conditions making it a tough competitor among other turf plants.
Speedwell spreads by both seeds and roots. The leaves are oval and opposite with lobes and fine hairs on the edges of the leaves.
Taxonomic etymology or the naming and classification of plants is interesting. Distinguishing one plant from another has always been important – a mark of valuing the plant’s qualities and sharing its value with others. A name comes to us having travelled a winding path through time, people familiar with a species giving it meaning that lives on in the common name of the plant. And, each culture may choose a different feature to highlight in the common name they use to name a species of plant and distinguish it from others. Now that we can identify plants looking at their DNA, many of the plant identifications of the past have had to be revised and species are moved around to join others – but the common names live on as a kind of history of the traditions of identification.
Looking at the common name: Germander Speedwell, the word-name “germander” is from Medieval Latin “germandra” from the Ancient Greek “khamaidrus” meaning “ground oak.” This because the leaves reminded someone of an Oak tree – though the plant grows close to the ground.
Speedwell has been commonly used as a herbal folk remedy and the name “speedwell” is thought to refer to how quickly it works as a medication: to speed well – or possibly as a charm to help the traveller along swiftly. Certainly, seeing these cheerful flowers along the path is a kind of good luck.
June 18: Indian Cucumber Root or Medeola virginiana is a member of the Lily
Family and the only plant in the genus Medeola. It is endangered in some states.
The plant grows with a two-story whorl. A whorl is created when a plant produces leaves that radiate from the stem like a star. The upper story has up to five rounded leaves with a pointed tip. The lower whorl has more elongated leaves, bearing as many as twelve. It is a fairly tall plant and its unusual shape stands out from the wooded area where it thrives.
In the first photo, the plant is showing fruit atop the upper whorl. It is still green but will become a dark blue/black later in the summer. Birds eat this fruit. The flowers in the second photo appear nodding below the upper whorl. Flowers have yellow tepals that curl backwards – as it is a lily – with yellow-tipped, red stamens and an ovary.
Cucumber Root grows from root rhizomes and they create colonies. The tuber on the root gives the plant its name as it tastes like cucumber and it was used as a medicine by the Iroquois.
June 17: Stag’s Horn Clubmoss or Lycopodium clavatum was growing with a number of other club mosses in a grove of conifers. Stag’s Horn prefers undisturbed places and has been listed as endangered due to changes in habitat from developed land or forest fire.
Also known as Running Clubmoss, you can see in the second and third photographs how it grows along the ground in a line, sending up shoots that create the impression of multi-pointed antlers.
The “antlers” are branched growth with tiny microphyll or needle-like leaves growing in a spiral on the stem and branches Each stem has a flame-shaped point at the tip made of fine, white hairs.
The stem grows horizontally and produces roots at intervals. The spore cone clubs or strobili that give this family its name grow vertically from the stem.
Fun fact about club moss spores: they have been used as flash powder to create theatrical special effects. The very fine powder creates large, sudden bursts of flames that disappear quickly. For more on this search: Lycopodium powder.
June 16: Narrow-leaved Blue-Eyed Grass or Sisyrinchium angustifolium is the most common Blue-Eyed Grass of the eastern United States. It is a native plant. It prefers moist meadow, stream banks and open woodland.
This plant was growing next to a small stream beside a path in Stowe. The single purple-violet flower with a yellow eye grows atop a single stem. It stands straight with accompanying leaves that look like long blades of grass growing form the base of the stem. Closer inspection will reveal that this plant is not a grass but a member of the Iris Family. The six-pointed “petals” on this plant are tepals: a combination of three petals and three sepals.
It grows in a clump from root rhizomes, reaching a height of a foot or more. It is a food source for birds.
June 15: Meadow Anemone or Anemonastrum canadense is a native plant often found in wet fields, streambanks and near freshwater lakes. Like its relative the Wood Anemone, it is a member of the Buttercup Family. Meadow Anemone has an attractive creamy-white flower that seems to glow with absorbed sunlight.
A unique feature of Meadow Anemone are the leaves which distinguish it from Wood Anemone. They are deeply divided and toothed with three spear-shaped parts making a wide V. The Wood Anemone has more spatulate leaves but is also divided into three.
The white flower is composed of five sepals, not petals. A sepal is typically used by a flower to protect a bud and as a support to the petals. In this case the white sepals grow on a stem above a leaf whorl composed of six small leaves. In the center there are up to a hundred yellow stamens.
The Anemone is an irritant and poisonous when fresh. It can spread aggressively in some environments. It likes protected part-sun areas since strong wind can break the flower stalks.
June 14: Riverbank Grape or Vitis riparia is a North American native vine. Riparian species grow in a zone between land and a river environment. It may grow along riverbanks and other freshwater areas. The photo of the fruiting vine was taken on the Bike Causeway on Lake Champlain.
This grapevine is durable and long living and will grow a very thick, coarse vine that appears shredded. It is capable of overtaking a tall tree, growing into the canopy. They enjoy full sun.
The flowers can fill the air with a very sweet perfume. The tiny flowers grow in a bunch or panicle at the end of a shoot and are greenish-white in color. The deep blue berries that follow the blooms are sour, seeded and grow in clusters like conventional, cultivated grapes. They are a favorite of birds.
These grapes are also known as “frost” grapes since they are especially tolerant to cold temperatures. For this reason they have been used to cold temper grapevines, breeding a frost tolerant domesticated grape in cultivation.
June 12: Spreading Dogbane or Apocynum androsaemifolium is also known as Fly-Trap Dogbane and Bitterroot. It is a native plant and common throughout the United States except in the southeast.
All parts of this plant are poisonous as it contains cymarin, a cardiac glycoside – the same poison that is in the Foxglove plant.
The leaves are opposite on short stems. It grows widely branching, making a bushy plant. Flowers are numerous, pink and bell-shaped with a fragrance like lilacs. The inside of the flower is candy-striped with nectar guides. Dogbane reproduces with seed and with root rhizomes and it is listed among plants that give important help in the recovery of land after large fires.
Dogbane is a perennial and prefers well-drained acidic soil. It tolerates many light environments and so can live in woodlands or in open areas. Dogbane blooms in summer.
It acquired the name Fly-Trap because the flowers produce a sweet substance that attracts flies. Flies are then trapped by the stamens inside the plant while transferring pollen. It is attractive to butterflies.
June 11: (corrected) We originally identified the Clubmoss shown as Diphasiastrum digitatum, which is the most common form of clubmoss in North America. But it is actually Dendropodium obscurum or Princess Pine (thanks for the help and guidance offered by social media friends of GMC Burlington!).
It is in the ancient Lycopodiaceae Family which originated about 380 million years ago. These evergreen plants are most often found in alpine environments in coniferous forests.
Clubmosses do not flower and produce no seeds, instead they use spores to reproduce. The spores can be found on a tiny club or strobilius that grows vertically above the rest of the plant. Leaves look like compressed scales and are often compared to the scale-leaves of the Cedar tree. These leaves are known as microphylls and consist of a single vein without a “leaf gap” – unlike most other plants and trees.
Club moss belongs to a class of plants known as Lycopods. They were originally huge and created forests of tree-like forms common during the early Devonian period when there was extensive colonization of plant life on land.
The branching, flat, needled leaves are soft and pliable. Leaves help to identify this plant, for example, the leaves below are shorter than those above. The upper ones open out and over like an umbrella.
This clubmoss grows over a series of seasons from a vertical shoot coming up from a horizontal root rhizome. This particular plant is probably in its third or fourth season as it has many branchings and the “club” or strobili is fully-formed.
The club grows directly from the stem and the scales are green. When its strobili opens, its overlapping flame-shaped scales look like an elongated pinecone and turn brown.
June 10: Wild Ginger or Asarum canadense is a native perennial common to the Northeastern United States and it is a protected species in Maine. It is also known as Snakeroot.
This plant forms colonies in deciduous woodland understory and grows from a network of root rhizomes. It likes moist acid soil and shady areas. Each plant consists of two large kidney-shaped leaves. It has a reddish, cup-shaped flower that appears in late spring. This sole flower is hidden between the leaves on the ground.
Asarum has long been used as both a flavoring and as a folk medicine for various illnesses. The root is distilled to make Snakeroot Oil. Dried and pounded leaves were used as snuff. It is identified as a toxic carcinogen by the USDA and discouraged due to its dangerous, life threatening affect to the kidneys.
Wild Ginger is attractive to butterflies and host to the Pipeline Swallowtail Butterfly.
June 9: White Campion or Silene latifolia is a naturalized member of the Pink or Carnation Family from Eurasia. It is usually an annual but may also be a biennial and even a perennial! The plant will appear in stages, with the leaf rosette forming first and then flowers on double stalks in older plants. White Campion flowers from May to September.
The unique flower shape is due to the formation of the calyx which defines the sex of the bloom of the flower. The flower has five petals, each with a split in the center of the petal. In the center of the bloom is a collar and within the collar of the male flower are ten stamens. The male calyx is maroon and darkly veined, which you can see in the first photo. In the second photo, you can see the female flower which has a larger calyx and is less deeply veined. It has five styles that curl over the collar. The seeds form within this calyx in a capsule.
The flowers have a sweet scent and follow a daily blooming cycle, opening up at the end of the day and closing at noon or later on cloudy days. Pollinators are night butterflies and moths as the plant increases its nectar production at night.
June 8: Common Milkweed or Asclepias syriaca is in its own genus and native to Canada and east of the Rocky Mountains.
It is a perennial herb that grows from root rhizomes. Milkweed has large, simple leaves. The leaves are velvety underneath and smooth on top. The round blooms have multiple flowers composed of five “hoods”. They have a strong, sweet fragrance and may be white, purple or pink like the ones in the photograph.
The flower is very popular with many pollinators and is a preferred food for Monarch butterflies. The loss of this plant colonizer due to mowing has affected the Monarch population and plantings of Milkweed have been made in gardens to encourage their return.
June 7: American Hog-Peanut or Amphicarpaea bracteata is sprouting on the forest floor. This plant is a member of the Legume Family.
The pink or purple blooms won’t appear till late in the summer on this vine. But, there are two different kinds of flowers: the clusters on the upper branches and the ones below ground that have no petals. This explains the name of the genus from the Greek: amphi or “of both kinds” and carpaea or carpos meaning “fruits”. That is, this plant flowers twice on the same plant in two positions and subsequently fruiting twice.
Birds eat the seeds of both fruits and hogs eat the fruit below ground.
June 6: It’s here! Poison Ivy is now making an appearance above ground in Northern Vermont. Toxicodendron radicans is its Latin name. Toxicodendron is from Ancient Greek words meaning poison tree: “toxicos” poison and “dendron” meaning tree. It is not a member of the Ivy Family but from the Sumac family, Anacardiaceae. Though it can be discovered growing along the ground and as a thick climbing vine on trees. Poison Ivy is notable for its thick, furry vine that grows straight up rather than twining around its host tree and its signature of shiny, three leaves which begin red and change to green as they mature.
The “poison” that causes painful and long-lasting skin rashes is called urushiol, found in the sap of the plant. The chemical was discovered by a Japanese scientist, Rikou Majima. He found that urushiol is a type of alkyl catechol and that it is able to penetrate skin and that it can survive on surfaces for years. The catecols are actually an allergen, not a poison and the rash is caused by the reaction of the white blood cells to the invasion.
This is the same chemical that causes skin irritation from contact with Poison Oak and Poison Sumac. Poison Oak is found primarily in west coast states and in some areas of the southeast. Poison Ivy is found in every state but California, Alaska and Hawaii. Poison Sumac is only found in the eastern United States.
Urushiol is used in the production of lacquerware in Japan, China and Korea. The term urushiol comes from the Japanese word for the Lacquer Tree, urushi, which contains the same chemical in its sap. The Lacquer Tree grows up to 20 meters in height and its yellow sap is harvested by slashing the bark of the tree and then applied to other materials like wood and dried over a long period to form a hard shiny surface.
June 5: Ferns are starting to make their appearance as the spring flowers retreat under the forest canopy. This is Sensitive Fern or Onoclea sensibilis a North American native.
The fern has been called sensitive because it dies when affected by frost. The fiddleheads of this fern are pale red. The fronds are pale green and grow from a root rhizome in colonies. Sensitive Fern is different from other ferns as the fronds are more leaf-like with lobes. The stem is brown and woody and the fronds are sterile.
Its presence is a wetland indicator though it can survive in shaded spots with moist soil. It grows taller in wet soil.
Sensitive Fern can also reproduce with spores. The spores appear on fertile spikes in brown, bead-like cases growing on stem segments.
June 4: Morning Glory vine is a species in the Bindweed Family. They are often considered invasive but it is threatened in some areas. This wild species called Hedge-Bindweed is hardier than the garden variety and the flowers stay open longer since they are less fragile. The vine was brought unknowingly by colonists in seed – first noted in the middle of the 1700s.
The plant grows rapidly, leaves twining in a spiral on the stem of the vine. The flowers may be many colors, especially white and pink but also may be blue, purple, yellow or pale violet – like this one.
The flower may remain open on moonlit nights to favor visiting moth pollinators. There is a species of Bindweed called “Moonflower.”
The Maya used a Morning Glory species to create rubber balls. The balls were used for Ōllamaliztli, a game similar to racquetball. The latex from a rubber tree was mixed with the juices of the Morning Glory plant, which contain sulphur, to vulcanize it.
During the Edo period in Japan, there was a Morning Glory craze. The Japanese painter, Hattori Sessai, produced a famous book of prints called “Morning Glory Flowers.”
In Grimm’s tale called “Our Lady’s Little Glass,” the glass is a Morning Glory flower.
June 3: Lesser Starwort or Stellaria graminea is a member of the Pink family. It is not native – originally from Eurasia but widely naturalized.
Starwort is a low-growing perennial. It produces seed but is more commonly growing from rhizomes. The small star-shaped flowers grow several to a stem. The flowers create the impression that there are 10 petals on each bloom, growing in pairs. These “pairs” are actually single petals. So there are 5 petals not 10 on each flower.
Starwort is an opportunistic weed and is often found in grassy fields and the edges of woodlands in partial sun locations. It blooms in late spring and early summer.
June 2: Field penny-cress or Thlaspi arvense is a member of the Cabbage Family. It is native to Eurasia and naturalized to North America. Penny-cress has been used as an overwintering cover crop in the Corn Belt in Midwest farms to provide for pollinators in an otherwise vacant field and then harvested in the spring.
Penny-cress can be processed as an oilseed and since 1994 it has been explored as an biofuel – especially for jet engines because it is high in eruic acid. Its genetic structure had been sequenced to understand and improve its qualities as an oilseed. It could potentially produce 1.3 billion gallons of fuel oil annually.
The small flower head is dense and each tiny, white flower has four petals. It flowers from May to June. The most recognizible part of the plant is the silicile, a seed capsule which is common to the Cabbage Family. It is heart-shaped and flat containing up to 14 seeds. The name of the plant is derived from these seeds which look like an old English penny.
June 1: Dame’s Rocket or Hesperis matronalis is a Mustard Family plant with many common names in English. It was imported from Eurasia and subsequently escaped gardens to become a naturalized plant. It may be perennial under certain conditions but is usually biennial.
Dame’s Rocket grows a tall, slender stalk with leaves attached at odd intervals. The leaves become less important and wither at the appearance of the bloom. And the weight at the top of the plant may cause it to topple – especially after seeding.
The four petals of the flower distinguish it from a similar-looking species, Phlox, but Phlox has a five-petal flower. Dame’s Rocket appears in several colors and it has a light fragrance, usually noticeable at the end of the day.