Members of the genera Pyrola (shinleaf) and Chimaphila (pipsissewa, prince’s pine) are small, evergreen plants that are found in Deering’s woodlands. They belong to a small group of genera, some of which lack chlorophyll. These genera, which additionally include locally common Indian pipe (Monotropa) along with sweet-pinesap (Monotropopsis) and pine-drops (Pterospora), have historically been classified in their own family, the Pyrolaceae, but are now considered to belong to the blueberry/heath family, the Ericaceae, subfamily Monotropoideae.

Members of the Monotropoideae are mycoheterotrophs. That is, they fully or partially obtain organic carbon from mycorrhizal fungi. Their seeds, ‘dust seeds,’ are exceptionally small and have undifferentiated embryos. Dust seeds occur in diverse families of flowering plants, perhaps most notably in orchids. The dust seeds in Monotropoideae require the presence of fungi, either direct contact with a fungus or the presence of a diffusible substance therefrom, to germinate (symbiotic germination). After germination ‘seedlings’ remain subterranean for several years, fully dependent on fungi for supply of carbon. Some mycohetrotrophs, including species of Pyrola and Chimaphila, develop the ability to photosynthesize as they develop and apparently no longer depend upon fungi to provide organic carbon. Others, such as the pure white Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), never develop the ability to phytosynthesize, and actually parasitize mycorrhizal fungi that associate with tree roots, thereby obtaining carbon indirectly from the phytosynthesis of the tree. Interestingly, in initial stages of growth the range of fungi associated with the developing seedlings is relatively large, the fully mycoheterophic species such as Indian pipe narrowing to more specific fungal associates as their seedlings develop. However among those early fungal associates, only those present at plant maturity stimulate germination.

Monotropa uniflora, Indian pipe, lacks chlorophyll.

Shinleaf (Pyrola)

The name ‘shinleaf’ refers to the use of their leaves in reducing pain resulting from bruises and wounds. The relief possibly provided by the salicylic acid (asprin) contained in the leaves.

The leaves of Pyrola species tend to be dark green and persist through the winter. The plants are never more than a six or eight inches high. Flowers are produced along a stalk, called a raceme and are white or pink. Five species of Pyrola are found in New England and all are natives. I have found two species in Deering: P. americana and P. elliptica.

Pyrola americana (American shinleaf, American wintergreen) and P elliptica (elliptic leaved shinleaf) both have white flowers and flower from June to August. These species are difficult to separate. Leaf blades of P. americana are ideally rounded, but can be elliptical as in P. elliptica. The chief differences are in the sizes of the calyx and the number and location of stipules.

Pyrola americana is also known as P. rotundifolia. It is found in woods, thickets and bogs in eastern North America and adjacent Canada, south to North Carolina and Kentucky, and Wisconsin. In Deering, I have found it at Hunter’s Pond and along Smith Brook trail in the Audubon Sanctuary.

Pyrola americana is sometimes called ‘American wintergreen,’ but it is not related to wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), also a member of the heath family.

The calyx teeth of P. americana are short relative to the petals, and the stipule clasps the base of the peduncle that supports each flower.

Pyrola elliptica is more common than P. americana, and has a wider distribution in North America, extending across the northern tier of states and provinces to Idaho and British Columbia. I have found it once in Deering, on Hedgehog Mountain Road.

The teeth of the calyx are short relative to the length of the petals, and one, unclasped stipule is found at the flower base.

Pipsissewa, prince’s pine (Chimaphila)

The Chimaphila plants you see arise from underground stems (rhizomes). The erect branches bear leaves all winter. The genus name is from the Greek cheima (“winter”) and philein (“to love”). I have heard two sources from Native American languages for the name ‘pipsissewa’: ‘forest flower,’ and ‘to break into small pieces’, referring to stones in the urinary tract. Two species of Chimaphila occur in New England and both are found in Deering.

Chimaphila umbellata is circumboreal in North America and northern Europe. It is found in well-drained woods in almost all of continental North America, including Alaska, except for Texas and several states in the far south, and Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In Deering have found Pipsissewa on Hedgehog Mountain road and Smith Brook Trail in the Audubon Sanctuary.

Pipsissewa is used in homeopathic medicine, and leaves are reported to flavor rootbeer, make a tea and flavor candy. Native North Americans used Pipsissewa root for a wide variety of ailments. Over harvesting the roots has endangered populations in some areas.

The plant spreads by seed and by extension of the root system and is said to be a good ground cover.

Pipsissewa, spotted wintergreen, striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is characterized by its variegated leaves that have a pale green stripe in the middle. The characteristic leaves make this plant easy to identify even when there are no flowers. Chimaphila maculata is native to native to eastern North America and occurs in all eastern states, west to Illinois, and in Quebec and Ontario. It favors partial sun to medium shade, dry-mesic conditions, and an acidic soil containing some rocky material or sand. It seems to be far less common than C. umbellata. Chimaphila maculata is considered to be endangered in Maine and Illinois. It has not been reported to occur in Hillsborough county before now. I have found it once on Hedgehog Mountain road.

Stripped wintergreen flowers from late spring into early summer.

Leaves of C. maculata are toxic to sheep and are avoided by deer. There is a long list of medicinal applications for stripped wintergreen, also known as ‘rheumatism root.’ However, there might be a reason to be cautious when considering collecting this plant for its medicinal value for one of its names is ‘wild arsenic,’ and handing the plant is reported to cause skin irritation and an allergic reaction in some.


Two species of laurel occur in Deering, Kalmia angustifolia (sheep-laurel) and K. latifolia (mountain laurel).

Laurels are members of the plant family Ericaceae, along with blueberries, cranberries, rhododendron, azalea, trailing arbutus, Indian pipe, and many other plants that are common in our part of the world. The genus Kalmia was named by Linnaeus, in the 18th Century, in honor of one of his students, Peter Kalm, a Swedish-Finish botanist and naturalist who traveled and collected plants in the Americas during the 18th century.

Mountain laurel is a native North American evergreen, perennial shrub. It is common in acidic soils of the Appalachian Mountains, plateaus, piedmont, and coastal plains from southeast Maine to the Louisiana delta and north through Indiana and eastern Ohio to southern Quebec. It is found in the understory of conifer and hardwood forests, where it can form virtually impenetrable thickets, but it also forms dense cover on ‘balds’ at 4000 ft in the Appalachian Mountains. Typically the plant is a shrub, reaching 6 feet or so in height, but occasional ‘trees’ can reach 50 ft in height in the valleys of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains of the southern Appalachians. and can form dense thickets.

The species is fairly common in south central New Hampshire, often forming dense thickets in shaded forests. Here in Deering it is not difficult to find plants of mountain laurel, but Deering’s mountain laurel plants are mostly low growing with woody stems and form a more or less densely ground cover on the deeply shaded forest floor. I have never seen these plants to flower. In my wandering in Deering I have seen flowering mountain laurel at only one site, on a town-owned lot not far from where Manselville Brook enters the Contoocook River. At this site there are not more than a half dozen upright woody shrubs, about 6 feet tall. They flower in the middle of June.

The chief pollinators of mountain laurel are bumble bees and other bees. The sPtamens, which carry pollen, adhere to the petals under tension. When a bee enters the flower, the tension is released and the pollen is shot onto the furry bee. The pollen can be shot for as much as a foot, fertilizing other flowers. If the flower is not visited by a bee, the stamens can release pollen and self fertilize their flower.

Members of the Ericaceae have fungi – – mycorrhizae — associated with their root hairs. The morphology of the mycorrhizal association, and the fungi that associate with roots of members of the Ericaceae are different from tree mycorrhizae. Tree mycorrhizae tend to be mushrooms while the fungi that associate with roots of the Ericaceae are taxonomically distinct. The nature of the ericoid mycorrhizal association is the least understood of all of the mycorrhizal associations.

Green parts of the plant, flowers, twigs, and pollen are all toxic, including food products made from them. Although mountain laurel pollen does not affect bees, the honey made from the pollen may induce neurotoxic and gastrointestinal symptoms in humans eating more than a modest amount. Symptoms of toxicity begin to appear about 6 hours following ingestion. Humans, their pets and livestock are all affected. Sheep and goats will readily graze on mountain laurel, and horses will eat the plant if there is nothing else to eat. Even ruffed grouse that feed on the leaves are sometimes killed.

Mountain laurel is unrelated to the true laurels (Lauraceae), which are used in cooking. Please do not substitute a leaf of a Kalmia species (mountain laurel, bog laurel, sheep laurel) for a bay leaf (Laurus nobilis) in your cooking!

Mountain laurel is the official state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Sheep laurel, Kalmia angustifolia, is a perennial shrub that can get to be 3 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. It has ridiculously showy, pink flowers in clusters formed below the branch tips so that leaves usually form further along the stem, above the flowers. Flowering is from late spring into summer. Leaves are held in whorls of two or three and are 1.5- 2.5 inches long. The plant forms a tap root that can be 3 ft deep, and a dense network of roots. Sheep laurel is colonial and can form dense stands.

Sheep laurel is native to northeastern North America. It is found from Newfoundland and Labrador west through Ontario and occasionally as far south as Georgia. It is common in the eastern Great Lakes region, the St. Lawrence region, northern New England, and the Maritime provinces.

There are two varieties of K. angustifolia. The variety carolina occurs in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia.

Sheep laurel is adapted to a wide range of habitats. bogs, swamps, other wetlands, and alpine summits in the Adirondack region of upstate New York. Here in Deering I have seen sheep laurel along water’s edge at Black Fox Pond, in the Audubon Preserve, and in Deering Lake.

Like mountain laurel, sheep laurel foliage is toxic. On the other hand, it provides winter forage and cover for wild grouse and other birds.

Rock-harlequin: Capnoides sempervirens

Rock-harlequin is a very pretty and unusual native wildflower. A wonderful addition to Deering’s flora.

Capnoides (Corydalis) sempevirens, Rock-harlequin or pale corydalis, is a delicate, lacy, 1-2 ft biennial with compound leaves that are divided into many lobes. The bicolored, tubular flowers are very pretty and morpologically unusual for Deering’s flora.

In the plant’s first summer the only foliage is a basal rosette, but in its second year the plant sends up many branched stems, each tipped with bunches of pink and yellow, flowers. The flowers are sac-like, tubular, pink and yellow and they occur in clusters at ends of branched stems bearing intricately divided leaves. The flowers give way to long, narrow seed pods. Seeds are spread by ants.

Rock-harlequin flowers from early summer through to early fall. It grows in rock crevices, talus, forest clearings, open woods, and on burned or otherwise disturbed areas in shallow, often dry soil. In burned zones it occurs within five years of a fire. In Deering I have found this pretty flower in two locations: the northern end of the Hedgehog Mountain Trail at the overlook, and on Little Hedgehog Mountain overlook, which is a short north leading trail from Hedgehog Mountain Road near the Landing. Both of these sites are exposed and rocky.

Rock-harlequin is native to North America, occurring widely in Eastern USA as far south as Tennessee and Georgia and as far west as Minnesota and Iowa, and it is found in Alaska and all Canadian provinces.

Capnoides sempervirens is a member of the poppy family (as might be guessed by the deeply dissected leaves). Additional species of Capnoides occur in Eastern North America. The Iroquois used a decoction prepared from plants of Corydalis sempervirens medicinally to alleviate piles. Some Corydalis species contain toxic alkaloids.


A lot of plants having yellow flowers bloom late in June in what some would call their lawn. We don’t do anything to encourage a grassy expanse of lawn, so what we get is probably anathema to most home owners.

Well, one price they pay for that lush green-ness is that they don’t get to see much of a variety of wildflowers. Woe betide the not-grass that appears in the ‘well-manicured’ lawn.

OK, sermon ended.

Currently four species of hawkweed, at least two species of cinquefoil and a small St John’s wort are blooming in great profusion around town. All have yellow flowers. But, so do goldenrod, evening primroses and larger St. John’s wort, whose plants are up but not yet flowering. We have passed from the spring, when white and green flowers were effective in attracting wild bees and other insect pollinators maybe more by odor than plant color? But, now we are full on bee time and yellow is the dominant flower color of the day.

Scouting around our ‘garden’ a few days ago I noticed scattered plants of bird’s-foot-trefoil . I had not previously seen this species in Deering. It’s common enough. Certainly I have overlooked it.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil , Lotus corniculatus, is a member of the pea family. It’s low, sprawling herbaceous plants have 3 clover like leaflets (actually 5, with 2 opposite leaflets at the base of the ‘trefoil’ or triple leaflets. This is the only legume with 5 leaflets). The plants can stand up to 2 ft tall and flowering branches terminate in a head, or floret, of pea-like yellow flowers. The fruit is a pod about one inch long. One brown to purple seed pod is produced per flower situated at right angles to the flower stalk and thus the 5-6 splayed pods resemble a bird’s foot.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil is a perennial, native to Eurasia but now widely distributed in North America after having been introduced around 1900. It is a “long-day “plant, requiring sixteen hours of sunlight to flower, just right now for the end of June. In some parts of North America and Australia the plant is considered a bothersome invasive while elsewhere it is planted for erosion control, because of its deep tap root, and as a forage legume on poor soil because of its nodulated roots that fix nitrogen. Several cultivars are available for agricultural use.

Flowers of bird’s-foot-trefoil flowers occur in florets of 4-8. Each floret is bisexual, thus can self pollinate although the plant has a self-incompatibility mechanism that prevents self-seeding. Most pollination is effected between plants by insects. Pollen in the plant matures before the flower opens. Filaments push the loose pollen forward into the closed tip of the united lower petals (keel), and pollination occurs when an insect’s weight on the keel forces a ribbon-like mass of pollen from the keel opening, some of it adhering to the insect’s underside. Further pressure as the insect seeks the nectaries causes the female stigma to slide into the same contact area, where it’s stickiness may pick up pollen from another plant that got stuck onto the insect. Like some other legumes, the bird’s-foot-trefoil produces highly nutritious pollen.

Honey bees and, especially, bumble bees are the principle pollinators of bird’s- foot-trefoil. Some bees became highly specialized on these plants; in fact, the decline of several bumble bee species has been linked to the reduced availability of clover, bird’s-foot-trefoil and other legumes. In Scotland, three of the scarcest bee species are believed to be completely dependent on bird’s-foot-trefoil’s pollen; the pine-wood mason bee, the mountain mason bee (Osmia inermis) and the wall mason bee (Osmia parietina).

But more importantly for the aspect of ecosystem services, the bird’s-foot-trefoil is a larval food plant for several butterflies and moths and a valuable nectar source for many other insects.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil can be confused with another yellow-flowered herb, butter-and-eggs, Linaria vulgaris Butter-and-eggs, or common toadflax, occupies much the same habitat as bird’s-foot-trefoil but flowers much later in the season. Butter-and-eggs can be problematic because through its vigorous growth it can out-compete other pasture natives and form dense mats that prevent the establishment of desired species. The plant is mildly toxic to livestock.

(In writing this post I relied heavily on The Book of Field and Roadside. Open-Country Weeds, Trees, and Wildflowers of Eastern North America by John Eastman. 2003. Stackpole books. It is one of three similar books by the same author. I am not sure that they are still in print. I found mine on E Bay).


When we took up residence at our new home on Hedgehog Mountain we planted three Tulip Poplar trees. We got them from Arbor Day Foundation as not very hopeful bare root sticks. Over the ten years we’ve been here, two have survived. One is not much more than 3 ft tall while the other is pushing 30 feet.

Late last year we found old flowers seeds on the big tree, but we had not seen flowering. Moreover, I had never seen flowers son the two really big trees in Appleton Cemetery.

Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipiera, is native to the mid Atlantic region and Appalachian Mountains. In its native range, trees can reach 150 or more feet in height, with long, straight, unbranched trunks and a spreading crown. I have seen magnificent trees in Maryland, not far from Washington DC, and in North Carolina. The species does not occur naturally this far north. These trees are beautiful. The few trees that I know for Deering are planted, the largest in the Appleton Cemetery sometime late in the 19th Century and in memory of some now unknown soul.

Although I had never seen the Appleton trees to flower, I have seen tulip poplar seedlings in Deering. One in Appleton Cemetery, next to the road and one deep inside the Titcomb Conservation Easement on Clement Hill Road — not so far from Appleton Cemetery. I am assuming the Appleton trees provided the seed. Maybe one day, with a warming climate, there will be magnificent specimens of tulip poplar in our forest?

The Appleton trees are currently in full bloom. It is a bit difficult to see the flowers in the trees as you travel at the legal speed of 35 mph on Deering Center Rd, but if you know to look at the trees, the flowers are visible from the road.

Tulip poplar is related to Magnolia, and their flowers are similar. But while the flowers of Magnolia are, basically, white or pink, the flowers of tulip poplar are orange and green. The flowers bear a superficial resemblance to a tulip. The flowers are quite beautiful and well worth a visit.

Here are some pictures.



The first, conspicuous wildflower in Deering is colts foot, Tussilgo farfara. Its brilliant yellow, daisy-like flowers appear soon after snow has gone in wet ditches, roadsides and generally open or shaded, disturbed areas. What you see early in spring is leafless stalks arising from the ground, each topped by a single flower. After flowering the head becomes all fluffy and white, dandelion-like, with windborne seed. Leaves of this species only appear later, after flowering and if you were not in the know (as some of my friends have been), you would not realize that these big green leaves belong to coltsfoot.

Coltsfoot is an European native but it has a very wide boreal distribution. It is most common in disturbed wet areas, such as drainage ditches. The plant has many medicinal uses. However, it contains several toxins and may cause serious harm, including liver damage and cancer.


Cypress spurge forms large colonies in disturbed areas, lawns and meadows, visible now for their yellow green flowers in mass. Cypress spurge is a native of Europe that is widespread in North America. It was introduced into the USA late in the 19th Century as an ornamental but is considered to be an aggressive invasive that is difficult to eradicate.


I have seen yellow rocket in a few places in Deering this year. The plants stand singly or in groups of a few, up to 18″ tall in full sun. With their racemes of bright yellow flowers you can’t miss them now.

Yellow rocket has been introduced into North America multiple times. The species is native to Eurasia. It is considered to be a noxious weed in some states but not invasive. It is a member of the brassica family, so think of cabbage and cresses. Young leaves are said to be edible but older leaves bitter. The flower stalk that we see this year arose from a rosette of leaves that were here last year. The flowers are pollinated by bees and flies.


I can’t think of one sidewalk in Deering. Our houses tend to be set way back from the road behind a bunch of trees. Driving through the one through road you would not realize that you were in a town. Yes, there are parts of town where the neighbor’s house can be seen from your front porch or even where your house can be seen from what we loosely call ‘streets,’ often just graded dirt ways through — the woods.

This gives us our ‘rural character,’ where ancient stone walls mark roads and boundaries. The roads are then most often lined by forest and wetlands. Drivers really should watch out for bounding deer or the occasional moose on the road. Early spring can cause turtles and salamanders on the road too.

Glorious Nature!

At this time of year, spring passing quickly but still there is a display of quite pretty white flowers produced from shrubs and small trees. Looking at them as you pass by at 40-or-so miles per you might well think that they are more or less the same, so you might be surprised to know that they are not.

These early flowering shrubs and small trees are some of the earliest of the spring flowers in our town. These species do not have notable scents, unlike later opening flowers. Their flowers open before honeybees and bumblebees are flying and include wild bees and other insects.

As I have written this post over about one month, so flowering has ended for most of the species included. You can still see pin cherry and hobblebush. Chokecherry is just now beginning to flower.

Pin Cherry, Prunus virginiana

The most common of this group are cherries, pin cherry and choke cherry. In Deering the pin cherry has been blooming for quite a while now and the choke cherries will come on in a week or so. Pin cherry trees are conspicuous for the profuse production of white flowers in ‘poofs,’ short clusters, on small trees that grow in exposed places. In fact, pin cherry is intolerant of shade. Pin cherry is conspicuous along roadsides and other exposed sites here.

Pin cherry is a North American native. It’s found all across Canada, down into Wisconsin and Michigan and across into New England, as far south as the Great Smoky Mountains, where specimens reach 50 feet in height. It is also known as ‘bird cherry,’ ‘fire cherry,’ and ‘red cherry.’ I don’t know where the name ‘pin cherry’ comes from, but ‘fire cherry’ refers to the species as an early colonizer following forest fire, and ‘bird cherry’ because many upland bird species eat the fruit. As an early colonizer pin cherry provides shade for slower growing species, thus allowing them to become established. This cherry is a short-lived species, dying off as other species develop on burned sites.

The fruit of pin cherry is said to make excellent juice and jelly.


Over the couple of weeks that I have been writing this post, early spring has given way to late May and chokecherry has begun to flower along roadsides in Deering.

Chokecherry is a North American native and is spread throughout the USA and Canada. Chokecherry is easily distinguished from pincherry by the linear or columnar arrangement of its flowers.

The name ‘chokecherry’ comes from the astringent fruit. We mostly see small shrubs, but chokecherry can often reach 20 ft in height and have a rounded crown.

The whole plant, fruit and twigs, provide food for wide range of birds and animals. It ranks third in the number of lepidopterans that feed on its leaves. These include five species of butterflies such as tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purple, and 10 species of giant silk moths such as cecropia moth, Polyphemus moth, imperial moth and io moth.  Thus this cherry is an important component of our natural landscape.


I have seen this plant only once in Deering. Several small trees are ranged along a rock wall to the right of the Carew House, in the heart of downtown Deering.

As near as I can tell, this is Canada Plum, the name that popped up on iNaturalist: must be so!? I have not yet seen the fruit.

Canada plum is another North American native. It is the northern most plum species. Canada plum occurs throughout New England, but it has not been recorded for New Hampshire. The location of these plants adjacent to one of Deering’s older houses suggests the possibility that it was cultivated. It is supposed to be the best plum pollinator.

The fruit of Canada Plum is described as sour, but is renowned for its use in jams and jellies.


Smooth Shadbush is native to Eastern North America. The genus Amelanchier sees its greatest diversity in North America and there is at least one native species in each of the states except Hawaii, and in every Canadian province. Six species of Amelanchier occur in New England.

The common names ‘shadbush’ and ‘serviceberry’ have interesting if fanciful names. Flowering occurs when shad run in New England streams, and when the ground is thawed enough to hold burial services for those who died during the winter.

The plants are multi-trunked trees or shrubs and are common that are common along our roadsides. Plants can reach 25′ in height, and I have seen trees this tall at the Wilkins Cemetery. The white flowers of A. laevis are among the first flowers in spring. The newly opened leaves are red or purplish while flowers are still on the plant. The pollinators are bees. The fruit are small, round, edible berries that ripen to dark purplish-black in June (hence the sometimes common name of Juneberry) and resemble blueberries in size, color and taste. Berries are often used in jams, jellies and pies. But if you expect to sample them you must beat birds to them as the fruit are popular with many species of birds.


Aronia is a genus of multi-stemmed shrubs that tend to grow in wetlands. The genus is a member of the Rosaceae, related to pears and cherries. The three species found in New England are native here and of the three two, A. floribunda (purple chokeberry) and A. melanocarpa (black chokeberry) are known to occur in New Hampshire. Purple chokeberry is a hybrid between

Aronia is a genus of multi-stemmed shrubs that tend to grow in wetlands. The genus is a member of the Rosaceae, related to pears and cherries. The three species found in New England are native here and of the three two, A. arbutifolia (purple chokeberry) and A. melanocarpa (black chokeberry) are known to occur in New Hampshire. Purple chokeberry is a hybrid between A. arbutifolia (red chokeberry) and black chokeberry.

I have only seen chokeberry once in Deering, in the Ferris Tract wetland along Longwoods Road, and have not seen its fruit to know whether it is purple or black. Maybe I have misidentified it.

The tiny flowers do look like flowers of pin cherry but chokeberies have a multiple style and not the single style of cherries.


Hobblebush plants are common in the roadside understory, especially in wet places and along the banks of brooks. It is a scraggly spreading shrub that is common in our forests. The flat topped flowers have a lacy appearance, looking a bit like hydrangeas. There are two forms of flowers, an outer ring of large, sterile flowers, and the inner disk of fertile flowers. Both forms attract pollinators. Hobblebush is host plant for the spring azure butterfly. As the season progresses pretty red fruit form, just in time to add to the beauty of our autumns.

Hobblebush is a native of eastern North American and is very common in New Hampshire. Here in Deering we have at least three species of Viburnum, but hobblebush is the most conspicuous and common. This viburnum has a bunch of common names. Of course hobblebush refers to the pendulous branches that reach to the ground and when there is a dense growth of the shrubs, it is definitely a challenge to make your way through, even for a witch (‘witch hobble’ is another name).

Actually ‘witch hobble’ doesn’t come from spell-casting ladies who wear pointy caps.  It’s a word descended from the Middle English word “withy,” which means a strong, flexible switch-like branch. It’s the same “witch” as in “witch hazel,” another withy or switch-like shrub.

Hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides, is the odd plant out in this post. Aronia, cherries, shadbush: they are all fairly closely related members of the rose family, Rosaceae. Viburnum is quite distant from the Rosaceae, a member of the plant order Dipsacales, which includes such familiar names as honeysuckle and elderberry.


Native bees take advantage of pollen produced by Pussy Willow soon after snow disappears in this New Hampshire town.

This past winter’s snow is all but gone now. Just a few resistant, dirty lumps of the stuff persist in very deeply shaded spots here on Hedgehog Mountain.

Can’t say I miss it. The winter seemed long and very very dark to me. Nope. Don’t miss the snow and cold at all!

I’ve been thinking about looking for early wildflowers. We have not yet found skunk cabbage here in Deering. It should be the earliest of the spring wildflowers. Skunk cabbage does occur a few miles down the road in Francestown. Why not Deering?

Last weekend I was out with friends Mike, Kay & Stephen, and Staci & Andrew placing bird boxes on the Gregg Hill lot.

The Gregg Hill Lot, and Greg Hill, is located in the center of ‘downtown’ Deering. This 14 acre lot is the home site of some of Deering’s earliest settlers who arrived late in the 18th Century. The Gregg Family built its home atop a 1,300 ft hill, one of the highest spots in town. That hill is now known as Gregg Hill. A succession of owners occupied the Gregg Hill Lot, which is just below the summit of Gregg Hill, and for several years — 1924 to about 1960 — one of New Hampshire’s earliest skiing rope tows was located on this steep slope.

Currently the Gregg Hill lot is owned by the Town of Deering, and the town Conservation Commission is in the process of developing pollinator gardens there, while donating a conservation easement to the Piscataquog Land Conservancy. The ultimate aim is for a trail to lead from Deering Center Road, through the meadow and pollinator gardens, to a spectacular view at the summit.

While we were putting out the bird boxes on Gregg Hill, we noticed that the willows at the bottom of the slope, are Pussy Willows. And now they are flowering! A first Spring (wild) flower!

Pussy Willow — Salix discolor — is a North American native plant. Native Pussy Willow has a wide northern distribution and there are many horticultural varieties of this popular species.

Mike reminded us that Pussy Willow is dioecious: individual plants are unisexual, female or male. Indeed, we found both on the site. The flowers are botanically known as ‘catkins.’ The male catkins are at first enclosed in downy silver hairs. and so might be what one usually think of when one thinks of Pussy Willow. Male catkins are showier than the female. The yellow stamens develop from within the silvery down and produce prodigious amounts of pollen. The female catkins have many carpels with yellow styles that are divided at the tips. Both sexes have nectar glands to attract pollinators.

Various insects are attracted to Pussy Willow flowers. These include, among others, flies, beetles, wasps and bees. Native bees are important pollinators of these early flowers. We observed several native bees, maybe Mining Bees, working the male and female catkins.

In addition to Pussy Willow being a super candidates for pollinator gardens, its leaves provide a banquet for several butterfly caterpillars.


About 320 species of flowering herbs, shrubs and trees have been recorded as occurring here in Deering the Conservation Commission.  I have seen most of those plants.

It is unusual for me to find a wildflower that I have not previously seen in town. Today was one of those unusual days!

On this day, early in August, I met a Forest Society land steward on  Clement Hill at the old town sand pit, now know as Petrecky Lands. This superficially unpromising piece of land was part of the old Ernst Johnson farm, which dates from way back in the early 20th Century. Like most of the land in Deering,  it was forest when the first settlers cleared land for farming late in the 18th and into the mid 19th Century. It was agriculturally poor land, and in the mid 19th Century the first wave of Deering’s settlers left town for, literally, fertile pastures in the west. The old Johnson farm has been parceled among the various Johnson children, and today much of it is protected by conservation easements.  The Petrecky land was owned by Ernst’s daughter Florence Johnson Petrecky, from whom the town acquired it for use as gravel pit. In 2011 the land was protected by a conservation easement, which is held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

petrecky DSC_7380
Petrecky Land Conservation Easement, sand pit

The Petrecky Lands easement consists of at least three components. What you see from the road is the old, flat and treeless gravel  pit. Behind that to the right is an extensive wetland that was transformed from pasture by beavers. To the left is a wet forest.

Petrecky wet forest in spring



While the old gravel pit does not look all that inviting from the road, quite a lot of interesting flowering plants can be found growing there, plants that are adapted to life in poor sandy soil.

Hypericum gentianoides, orange grass

Lechea intermedia








Nuttalanthus canadensis, blue toadflax

Some of those plants include the natives orange grass (Hypericum gentianoides), blue toadflax (Nuttalanthus canadensis) and Lechea intermedia, a type of heath. At this time, early in August, orange grass is abundant and in full bloom.



In 1987 a group of Deering’s residents recorded all the plants that they could find on one day. It’s not a long list, but ‘forked blue curls,’ Trichostemma dichotoma, is on it. I have not previously seen this species.


Trichostemma dichotomum, forked blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum, forked blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum, blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum is native to North America, found in Easterm Canada and the US as far west as Texas. It is a denizen of sandy, so called waste, sites. Like the Petrecky Land. It is a low growing annual plant, reproducing by seed, and one of the mints. You can see the ‘mintiness’ of the plant from the square stem and, especially, the lower ‘lip’on the flower that is a good place for pollinators — native bees — to land. The stamens, the male parts, curl over the lip in such a way that the pollinator can get a good dose of pollen.

Go out to the Petrecky Land, on Clement Hill Road. As you walk across the ‘waste’ sandy area you might be pleasantly surprised at the pretty things you will see!


Black Swallow wort: a nasty invasive in our zip code!

A bunch of invading plants that no walls can keep out are living in our town of Deering, a small rural community located in south central New Hampshire/the  Monadnock Region,.

We have been successful thanks to a Lake Hosts boat inspection program and an active group of Weed Watchers, in preventing the introduction of highly invasive Variable Milfoil into our lake, and — unlike most towns in our area — Japanese Knotweed is not a conspicuous feature of our roadsides because members of the Conservation Commission  cut the stuff back each year.

But this year I am noticing a whole lot of black swallow wort in town. This plant — Cynanchium louisiae — is disastrously invasive. It grows thickly on the ground and quickly covers everything, preventing the growth of other plants. Even covering street signs! Like all successful invasive species, black swallow wort has no local  parasites or browsers to limit its development. And, like milkweed, the seed come out of the pods in a fluff that is easily scattered by wind.

There is a dense growth of this invasive in the Tom Rush meadows, but few go up there to see it. Where it is most conspicuous is along roadsides, probably in front of your own home. Lurking in rock walls or around your mail box.

Black swallow wort is a native of Europe that was introduced into the United States, through Massachusetts, in the mid 19th Century. The plant is widely distributed in eastern USA and Canada but is not common west of the Mississippi River. A second swallow wort, Cynanchum rossicum, was introduced into New England from Europe as an ornamental late in the 19th Century. Its distribution is limited to the New England states. I have not seen it in Deering.

Black swallow wort is easily recognized. It’s a low growing herb with dark green leaves; the plant tends to vine. The leaves are paired, opposite each other on the stem, narrowly heart-shaped, and drawn to a fine point. The have a strongly developed central vein that causes the halves of the leaf blade to form a kind of V-shape down the length of the leaf. Flowers form at the tips of the vine and are small, dark purple. Kind of pretty actually. The fruit is a twin capsule. The roots are white and thick, forming a mat in the soil; there can be a tap root.

Apart from its invasive nature, black swallow wort and other swallow worts, which are related to milkweed, are toxic to Monarch butterflies, deer and cattle. The plants themselves contain the toxin, and they put toxins into the soil that prevents  growth of other plants.

We all know by now that milkweed is the preferred medium for development of Monarch butterflies. The butterflies mate, most famously in Mexico, but in other western sites as well. They then migrate north and east looking for a place to lay their eggs. In March and April they lay their eggs on milkweed and, lamentably, black swallow wort .  About two days later the eggs hatch to the distinctive caterpillar, which feeds on milkweed.

However Monarch caterpillars that hatch on swallow worts are not able to feed. They avoid the toxin in the plants, and thus do not survive. From an ecological point of view, they are wasted.

After two weeks, the caterpillars on attach themselves to a stem or leaf of milkweed and begin the process of metamorphosis that leads to the beautiful Monarch butterfly.  The emergent butterfly will fly away to enjoy about two weeks of feeding on all sorts of flowers but, just before dying, they lay their eggs.


Clearly, black swallow wort is a bad actor. But you can help to control it.

Cutting it back is not good because that will only encourage more growth. Most of what I see in town along roadsides can maybe controlled by digging. You can dig it out, but dig deeply so as to get as much root as possible. You will have to return and dig out what you have missed but eventually . Glyphosate is effective.

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