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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
It is impossible not to notice shrubs with white flowers growing alongside Deering’s roads in the spring.
I know of three species that are more or less common, all of which are native to Eastern North America, extending from New Brunswick to the Gulf states.
The most common, and conspicuous, of Deering’s flowering roadside shrubs is hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides.
Hobblebush inhabits the understory of cool forests. It produces flat-topped clusters of white fowers in two forms: 1) an outer ring of 3/4-inch wide, showy white flowers that are sterile, but may attract pollinators; and 2) an inner cluster of small greenish, fertile flowers. This shrub is a host plant for the caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon). [from Native Plant Trust Go Botany]. Clusters of red berries form late in the summer.
Hobblebush grows densely in the understory. If you have ever tried to ‘bushwhack’ through a patch, you would understand and appreciate the aptness of its name, hobblebush.
Chokeberry and serviceberry are easily distinguished from hobblebush at 40 mph, but you will have to slow — to a stop — and get out of your vehicle to determine which of these the small-flowered , spindly-trunked bush is.
Eastern shadbush, Amelanchier canadensis, is a 6-20 foot (2-6.5m) tall tree that produces white flowers in March and sweet, edible berries in June (around the same time as the annual shad run in New England). The smooth, light grayish-brown bark has vertical dark stripes.
With a graceful, arching growth form that resembles alder, as well as reddish fall color to the leaves and edible fruits, this species makes a pleasant backdrop planting for the garden. [from Native Plant Trust Go Botany].
Black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, is also a small tree, similar in stature to eastern shadbush and, like shadbush, is a member of the rose family.
I have only seen black chokeberry in the wetlands of Deering’s Longwood Road. I am not 100% certain that this is A. melanocarpa because I have not yet seen its fruit.
The Burke Family Wildlife Preserve is a 59 ac parcel in Deering on Pleasant Pond Rd, on Old Francestown Rd., just off Rt 149. The parcel, which is owned by the Piscataquog Land Conservancy, consists of open forest and marshlands. An informal trail (marked with blue diaonds) makes a short loop through the dry, forested part of the property. Dominated by hemlock and oak, this is a great trail for mushrooming! However, the largest part of the Burke Preserve is an extensive wetland with open water.
The Eversource power right of way that crosses Deering passes through the middle of the Burke Preserve. In 2016 Eversource undertook to replace the power poles in Deering. In order for them to cross the many wetlands in Deering between the Weare town line and Deering center they had to place a boardwalk across the wetlands that would support heavy vehicles. It was actually fun to walk across the wetland on the boardwalk, which gave good access to the otherwise inaccessible middle of the wetland in the Burke Preserve.
Eversource has since removed the boardwalk and vegetation has returned. At least to my untrained eye the wetland is unaffected.
While monitoring the Burke Preserve late in August I found Agalinis tenuifolia — slender leaved false foxglove — for the first time in Deering. It was growing in a dry, exposed part of the Eversource right-of-way.
The plants stood out for their pink flowers on plants that stood no more than a foot high.
Agalinis tenuifolia is a native of North America and is widespread over eastern half of the USA and Canada. It is a member of the plant family Orobanchaceae, the broom-rape family. All members of this family, which includes nearly 150 genera and 3,311 species, are parasitic on other plants either entirely or, like A. tenuifolia, they have chlorophyll and can produce their own food at the same time that they parasitize nearby plants.
Two other members of the Orobanchaceae are common in Deering. Melampyrum lineare, cow wheat, is a small, inconspicuous herb that has small white flowers. This species has chlorophyll but is parasitic on roots of pine trees. Another common, and conspicuous member of the Orobanchaceae is beech drops, Epifagus virginia, which can be found in Deering’s forests where it parasitizes roots of beech trees. Agalinis tenuifolia is not specialized as to host.
Late summer here in Deering and fields and roadsides have been yellow for a while now. First came the black-eyed Susans, now goldenrods dominate. They’re the ones that form great swathes of yellow in sunny meadows and along roadsides.
Small digression . . .
Solidago, a name derived from Medieval Latin, Soldago (to make whole), was applied to this group of plants because of their medicinal value. There are lots of links for goldenrods and Solidago, on the WEB.
Goldenrods are a tricky proposition for anybody who wants to identify species. However, some species can be identified readily from a distance of 2 meters based on their form and/or flower color.
For example . . .
The flowers of Solidago bicolor, which are just now (end of August) opening, are white with maybe just a touch of yellow. You might not think this one was a ‘goldenrod,’ but it is. This species is common here along roadsides and other dry sites in full sun.
Another distinctive goldenrod is no longer classified in the genus Solidago. Euthamnia graminifolia, which you will still find in wildflower guides under Solidago, really does not look like your average goldenrod. Its two common names reflect the differences. The very narrow, pointy leaves suggest leaves of grass, hence the species name graminifolia. The second distinctive characteristic of this species is the fact that the heads of flowers all form at more or less the same level (unlike other goldenrods where ‘flowers’ (really, heads of flowers or ‘racemes’) can look like fountains – – or star burst fireworks!). Thus the common name ‘flat-top-goldenrod.’
It’s an insect. A kind of a fly known as a ‘gall midge.’ Euthamnia graminifolia is the one and only host for the gall midge Asteromyia euthamniae. I have not found much information about this gall midge on line, but infected plants are pretty common here in Deering. Typically the larva of a gall midge burrows into the leaf’ and this elicits a response from the plant, which results in the formation of this characteristic gall. The gall is first bright yellow but becomes the tarry black shown in these pictures. After pupation an adult emerges to repeat the cycle. The Euthamnia gall midge, a nondescript fly, can repeat the cycle two or more times from spring through fall. Not all, but many grass-leaved goldenrod plants are affected and the species is common in Deering.
Euthamnina graminifolia is a native of North America, where it is widely distributed. The species typically occurs in damp places, but it can also be found under dry conditions along roadsides and in fields. This is one species that has been spread to Europe from North America. The species is commercially avilable.
Smith Brook is one of my favorite water courses. It rises from Black Fox Pond, in Deering’s Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, and flows for about a mile-and-a-half through conserved forest and wetland before entering a big wetland in North Deering. Water from that wetland feeds Dudley Brook and eventually the Piscataquog River.
Part of Smith Brook’s course is through forest. There the banks of the brook are sharply defined, the channel narrow. Trees line either bank and cool the waters. These places invite me on one summer’s day to sit down, back against a tree, and dream. In other places the brook’s channel is not so clear, a wetland; there is no forest here, just some scattered red maples and other shrubs growing among tussocks of grass and sedges. This time of year pickerel weed is in abundance and and in full bloom along the banks and in pools. These are sunny places, rich in life, but they do not invite me to get more than my feet wet. No protracted dreaming as I plot where to place my foot next.
The Garland Conservation Easement – – named for Bob Garland, a longtime Deering resident who loved our forested town – – on North Road is in large part a wetland that is formed by Smith Brook. Two narrow arms of the easement form a ‘U,’in the middle of which sits a private residence. But, most of the easement is behind the house in the wetland. Much of the Garland easement abuts land that has been conserved by the Audubon Society and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
While monitoring the Garland easement early in August I found plants that I’d not seen before. The first was a shrub that I was sure was SOME sumac, not thinking that it was the dreaded POISON SUMAC until I got back home and pulled out of my sack the small branch that had berries and leaves. The rash and itching has largely subsided now, a few days later!
Another, far more interesting plant was BUTTON-BUSH, Cephalanthus occidentalis. Button-bush was recorded for Deering by a group of plant explorers in 1987, but I had not seen it until a few days ago. Button-bush is a shrub that grows in wet places and can reach several feet in height. It flowers late in the spring, the ‘flowers’ are white and are actually compound heads, each about an inch in diameter and comprising many tiny flowers. The pistils extend beyond the surface of the ball giving the appearance of pin cushions.
The flowers of button-bush are fragrant and attract various pollinators, including humming birds and butterflies. The reddish-brown fruit persist through the winter and seeds are consumed by water-fowl.
Button-bush is native to eastern North America, but it is wide-spread throughout North America. Commercial cultivars are available for this attractive plant.
Almost August now and the wildflowers of early summer are giving way to late season blooms. Before the full onslaught of goldenrods, here is a selection of yellow flowers that you might see along our roads and in fields now.
Yellow-loosestrifes, Lysimachia species
The yellow-loosestrifes are members of the primrose family. They should not to be confused with – – and are not related to – – the invasive purple loosestrife. How do you distinguish them? it’s in the name: purple vs yellow. Lysimachia species make good garden plants. The common name, loosestrife, may have come from 16th Century English herbalist John Gerard, who wrote about a use of fringed yellow-loosestrife: fresh plants were tucked into the yokes of oxen, “appeasing the strife and unrulinesse which falleth out among oxen at the plough…”
Hummm . . .would it work today?
Lysimachia terrestris is an obligate wetland species, and is the most common yellow-loosestrife. You can find it growing in wet areas and in wet cuts along roadsides. Its common name is ‘swamp candles’ because the plants, which can reach 36′ tall, are unbranched and erect, and they terminate in a long raceme, or spike, of petty yellow flowers giving the appearance of a candle. At the base of each petal there are two red dots. Lysimachia terrestris is an obligate wetland species that is native to eastern North America. It’s flowering is on its last legs now, at the end of July.
Two other yellow-loosestrife pecies that occur in Deering are L. ciliata (fringed yellow loosestrife) and L. quadrifolia (whorled yellow-loosestrife). They are not as common in Deering, anyway, as swamp candles.
Whorled yellow-loosestrife is native to Eastern North America and occurs in wet or dry disturbed habitats, grasslands and woodlands.
Fringed yellow-loosestrife was introduced to North America from Europe and today occurs throughout the continent. It can grow in wet or dry habitats.
St . John’s Worts, Hypericum species
St . John’s Worts (Hypericum species) are members of the family Clusiaceae, the mangosteen family. As is so often the case, this family is primarily tropical, where it is represented by trees and shrubs.
Common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is frequently found in Deering along roadsides as a tall, unbranched or infrequently branched plant (up to 2 ‘) with from 1 to several large, brilliantly yellow flowers forming near the tip. It’s fairly easy to identify from its stubby leaves and yellow flowers.
Common St John’s Wort is introduced into North America, where it is widespread, from Europe and Asia. It is considered to be invasive. St John’s Wort gets its name from the time of flowering, which coincides with the Summer Solstice (21 June) and Saint John-the Baptist’s birthday (24 June). The plant has been used medically since at at least the 1st AD century, when it was noted by the Greek herbalist Pedanios Dioskourides. Today Common St. John’s Wort is available in herbal shops in various forms and for various medical indications, which include antidepressant, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory,expectorant and tonic for the immune system, used for its alleviating properties. In recent times it has found its place in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. In numerous clinical double-blind trials against placebo and other antidepressants the whole extract of St.-John’s wort, e.g. as in Jarsin coated tablets, has proved to be just as effective as the other antidepressants for mild and moderate depression, but not for severe depression (Psychiatriki. 2010 Oct-Dec;21(4):332-8).
Hypericum perforatum is just one member of the family Hypericaceae that occurs in Deering, although it is the most conspicuous. Several species of Hypericum occur in wet areas, but they are smaller plants. I honestly cannot satisfactorily identify all of them. One diminutive species, Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is fairly common, including on some of the rocks in the Deering Reservoir.
One of my favorites, and one that is very easy to identify – – IF you see it – – is Hypericum gentianoides, or ‘orange grass.’ Orange grass occurs in bare, sandy places and is native to eastern North America, extending to the Mississippi River and beyond, into Texas. The plants do not reach more than 8″ in height. Plants are richly branched and erect; the stems are wiry, the leaves rudimentary, scaly. The flowers are about 1/4″ in diameter and brilliant yellow. The fruit is a red capsule that terminates each branch. Orange grass is an annual, but tends to come up in the same place as last year. It grows in several parts of Deering (it is blooming now, down in the grass at the triangle at Holton Crossing, and last year there was a quite a lot of it in the sand pit on Clement Hill Rd).
Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis
Plants of the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennisi), are common along dry roadsides. This plant is native to eastern North America but has become widely distributed.
Typically the plants are unbranched and can reach 7′ in height, although usually much shorter. Flowers occur over the upper quarter of the plant. Often flowers are solitary but several can arise simultaneously from a plant. The flowers measure 1″ – 2″ in diameter; they open widely in evening and are closed during the day. They are pollinated by moths at night, attracted by the lemony scent. The species name, biennis, implies that the plant requires two years to develop. In the first year a basal rosette, or ground-hugging radial cluster of leaves develops; in the second year the tall spike arises from the rosette and produces the flowers. Evening Primrose flowers from mid summer through into fall. The plant has a fleshy tap-root. A wide range of pharmacological activities have been attributed to Common Evening Primrose.
One of the most fun responsibilities of members of Deering’s Conservation Commission is the annual job of making sure that there have not been transgressions on any of the fifteen or conservation easements (out of a total of around 130 conserved lots, a bit over 7000 acres) located in town.
Annual ‘walking’ the easements, basically walking around the perimeter or – – at least — walking along those boundaries that are most likely to be impacted by people, takes conservation commission members into those conserved lots that most people never see. None of the conserved lots in town are very far from traveled roads, but – -as the saying goes – – 90% of the people never venture further than 20 yards from the road. The lots are mostly forested and few have marked trails. Once inside a 60 acre easement it is easy to forget that you are not in some isolated place despite the proximity of The World. Trying to determine the boundaries of an easement without using a GPS enabled device can be a challenge, although that is the way things were done until recently.
The Titcomb easement is such a lot. The Titcomb easement, comprising 60 acres (average size of a conservation easement in Deering), was once the Harold Titcomb farm. In the 1920’s and 30’s the Titcomb Farm was noted as a commercial poultry farm, one of the few commercial operations in town. This easement is situated within the triangle formed by three Deering roads: on the west Deering Center Rd, on the north Clement Hill Rd, and on the east Dicky Hill rd.
Traveling along those roads one would not imagine the beautiful wetland that lies just beyond the road and that makes up a large part of the easement. I got to experience the ‘wet’ part of the Titcomb wetland last week when I set out to walk the perimeter after heavy rain the previous day. Crashing through sensitive ferns is a wet job!. The southern boundary of the Titcomb Easement passes the edge of a large pond that is the heart of the wetland. For me and my monitoring it was at roughly the half way point. When I got to it I had to decide whether to avoid the wetland and pond by retracing my path, going way out of my way onto non conserved land to get around most of the wetland, or take advantage of this being a dry year and hope I could negotiate a thin beaver dam and step from grass tussock to tussock to get to the other side. That’s what I decided!
With my walking stick probing the way forward I was able to get half way across, on the berm of a beaver dam when I started seeing pretty blue flowers on low growing herbs. This beaver dam was a rickety sort of thing where a wet foot or leg – – or more — was a distinct possibility. At one point, though, there was enough room to settle bit. Condense my stringy frame into a small sort of dry spot with the berm of the dam to my back and the open pond in front of me.
I love times like this. Especially so when the day is sunny, which this day was not. It’s quiet there and the feeling of being – – alone, the ‘first,’ remote – – is exhilarating. Dragon flies and water striders. Pond lilies and still water. Cat tails just now in flower and yellow swamp candles all about. I won’t say soporific (my foot was getting wet), but damned comforting to rest in that spot. I’ve felt this way when I worked in tropical rain forests. Romantic stuff. Hear the cycle of nature. To sit quietly in a forest, alone: itt beats any sermon I’ve ever heard.
But, back to those pretty blue flowers that seemed to be growing all around me in the Titcomn Easement . . .
These were Allegheny Monkey Flower, Mimulus ringens. Its blue flowers kind of look like snap dragons but are the two are not related.
The Latin name of Allegheny Monkey Flower, Mimulus ringens, translates to buffoon (mimulus) that gapes (ringens). I guess this name was chosen because when the flowers are squeezed they look like monkey faces or at least they must have to the great botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who described the species in the middle of the 18th Century.
This native species grows in full sun in wetlands over most of North America. It is a perennial plant that can get to 3 ft tall and has a square stem. The flowers are pollinated by bumble bees, but if the invasive purple loosestrife is growing nearby – – the two occupy the same habitat – – Monkey Flower flowers might not get pollinated because the bumble bees choose the flowers of the invader. Native Americans and early settlers are said to have used the plant as greens.
Allegheny Monkey Flower is commercially available from several sources. It can make a lovely addition to your wetland garden.
Here are some pictures of Allegheny Monkey Flower.
Lilies are now opening in our garden, the hiatus between the spring and summer bloomers over.
I know of two native lilies that occur in Deering. Mediola virginiana (Indian cucumber root, a member of the lily family) flowers in spring and, while its plants are conspicuous and its purple-berried fruits spectacular even, its flowers are quite hidden, although quite pretty.
The second native lily that I’ve found in Deering is Canada lily, Lilium canadense. This is one of the most spectacular wildflowers found in Deering. The species was reported in the 1987 list but I had not seen it before this summer at the end of June along a small brook in West Deering near the McAlister fire station.
Canada lily is typically found in moist sites in woods, meadows, roadsides and so on. It is native to eastern USA and eastern Canada. The plant stands from 1 to 4 feet tall and bears from 1 – 5 blossoms. The flowers can be red or yellow; what I found in Deering has yellow flowers.
Except for when the ground is covered with snow, partridgeberry (Michella repens) is a conspicuous element of the forest floor. Its little leaves, each about the size of a dime, remain green all year. Other species such as trailing arbutus and wintergreen occupy the same mesic or wet habitat, but leaves of partridgeberry are easily recognized by the white line that runs down the middle of each glossy leaf.
Partridgeberry flowers now, late in spring/early in summer. As I write this flowers are abundant in some forested sites in Deering. The plants form a carpet within which there are many little white flowers. The display is really very charming.
Flowers of partridgberry are paired, joined at the base and opening widely to 4 petals above a cylindrical corolla. The buds are pale pink but the open flowers are mostly white with only a little pink remaining in the corolla. The insides of the petals bear numerous very fine hairs. The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees. The bases of the flowers fuse. Nominally each flower produces 4 seeds, but because the ovaries are fused, each fruit is vaguely 2-lobed and contains 8 seeds. Pollen from different plants is required for fertilization
Partridgeberry is widespread throughout eastern USA and Canada as far west as the Mississippi River and even into Texas. It mostly occurs on dry-ish sites but can also be found in wet sites. The red berries are edible but really don’t have any flavor. Ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, skunks, and white-footed mice consume partridge berries, but even with that partridgeberries can be found almost all year round.