Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Blooms of the Year

Over 7 months ago I was writing about all of the Witchhazels that were in bloom and how they were among the first plants to bloom in the new year.  Well, Common Witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is among the last of the native shrubs to bloom.  Sometimes you don't notice the flowers because the leaves are still attached.  My 3 year old witchhazel began blooming about 10 days ago (early October) while the leaves were still quite green.  Now bloom is peaking and the leaves are turning chartreuse and yellow.

These photos are of some older plants at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Leaf drop is underway and the flowers are becoming a more prominent feature of the plant.  If you get close you can smell the distinctive witchhazel scent; although it as not as strong as for the hybrid, H. x intermedia, and Vernal Witchhazels, H. vernalis.

In this close-up you can see the 'wart' on the leaf that is actually a gall caused by the witch hazel aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis).  There are some stories that link the name of the plant to resemblance of these galls to the imagined warts on a witch's nose.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Weekend in Mid-Coast Maine

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have a friend who invites us up to their cottage in Mid-coast Maine at the end of the summer. For the botanist in me, this is a native plant wonderland, especially since I am more used to seeing invasives and exotics in my suburban landscape habitat. I would love to have this kind of native plant diversity around my home.

Most of the easily identified plants were late summer and fall blooming species; however I could pick out some early bloomers, like bluebead, Clintonia borealis. Up around the cottage and the nearby woods I found a variety of goldenrods, including silverrod, and asters and drifts of hairy Solomon’s seal, wintergreen, sweetfern, and maple-leaved viburnum.

One goldenrod I particularly like is the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia, since it grows well in shady locations – a good way to add some brightness to an otherwise dark location.

Mixed in with the Viburnum were seedlings of striped maple, Acer pensylvanicum, which has similarly shaped leaves, but they are about 4 times larger.


Along the gravel access road I spotted some indian cucumber root, Medeola virginiana, which I think is more striking in fruit than when it is actually in bloom. The plant shown is about 18" tall.  Also along the road were masses of witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, which I had never noticed before. This is probably due to my learning more about what plants look like, than would be the sudden appearance of full-sized shrubs. Witchhazel is one of the latest blooming native shrubs, here it is mid-September and the flowers were just beginning to open. In colder climates these shrubs bloom while the foliage is still attached, in warmer places the flowers may persist until after leaf drop.

A little deeper in the woods I identified a new plant for me, round-leaved dogwood, Cornus rugosa. At first I though it was another viburnum, since it had opposite pairs of leaves, but the leaves were decidedly un-toothed, so I dug a little deeper into the field guides. This looks like it could be a nice understory shrub to grow in the shade under pines.

Next to the pond near the cottage there are thickets of winterberry holly, meadowsweet and maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina). It took me a long time to ‘key out’ the maleberry, since I had never seen it before. This shrub grows in moist and sandy places and has flowers similar to blueberries. I originally had it as different shrub, leatherleaf, but some things about the description in the guide just didn’t seem right, particularly the dried flower clusters. So I kept at it using some other guides. It is ‘dangerous’ to use just one key or a limited set of observations when identifying unfamiliar plants on your own. If you are conflicted about a plant ID, you may have it wrong. This process can be tedious, but going through the details helps me remember the plant better than just reading what it is on a tag.

Popham State Park
We also made a trip to the beautiful sandy beach at Popham State Park, not far from Bath, ME. Of course I went in search of wildflowers. Here you see the aptly named seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) growing right out to the edge of the rocks. I also found some stunted New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) growing on the rocks a little closer to land.

'Cottage Garden'
Back at the cottage, there is some room among all these wild native plants for a small ‘cottage garden’. I was told that it took all summer for these sunflowers to reach maturity, growing from seed, but they made it none the less. Every time I visit here I learn some new native plants. Maybe next year I will grab my fern guide and venture a little deeper into the woods to see what’s growing there.