Week of May 19, 2013 - quaker ladies, violets, wild oats, polygala, columbine, saxifrage, arbutis, lilies, hepatica and dwarf ginseng

Sunday, May 19, 2013 2:11 PM | Anonymous
Greetings of early summer joy to each and every one of you.
Shall we go on a walk in the woods on this delicious day? The sun is warm and the trees are in blossom and not yet leafed out. It’s the perfect time to find and enjoy the native wildflowers of the deciduous forest, which tend to bloom while they are still bathed with sunlight, before the emerging tree leaves plunge them into shade.

The air smells fresh. The sky is cerulean blue. Everything is teeming with energy. And no doubt there will be lots of fairies joining us on our walk. Take off your shoes if you wish, and come along.

Our first wildflower reflects the sun and the sky: It’s light-blue with a yellow eye at its center. I call it “Quaker ladies,” an alternative to the usual field guide name of “bluet” (Houstonia caerulea). [photo 1] It’s said to be a headache remedy. Hmmm. I guess if you sent the kids out to harvest several hundred of these little flowers – and they are so abundant you could harvest hundreds of them – you’d at least get an hour of peace and quiet to resolve your headache.

  [photo 1]                                                            

If I had a headache, though, I would prefer to eat violet flowers as my remedy. The darker the purple, the stronger the effect on the head, so this one [photo 2] would be better than this one [photo 3]. They are all tasty though, and surely they are robes for the fairies if the night grows cold.

  [photo 2]                                                               [photo 3]

Well! The fairies certainly are enjoying themselves painting the flowers this year. Here’s a patch of Quaker ladies dressed in white instead of the usual blue. [photo 4]  

On the top of this mossy cliff is the inappropriately-named, but very beautiful, wild oats (Ulvularia sessilifolia). [photo 5] This dainty fairy dress, quivering in the slightest breeze, is a bellwort, not a grass, and this particular species has leaves that touch, rather than clasp, the stalk.

  [photo 4]                                                                   [photo 5]

Aha! Here’s one of my spring favorites – and certainly a favorite of the fairies – gaywings or fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia). [photo 6] It always makes me smile when I find it. Perhaps the fairy queen will wear one to the ball this weekend. (for those who can count, photo five to be added later today)...

  [photo 6]

Or perhaps she will wear a red and yellow party dress of wild columbine (Aquliegia canadensis). [photo 7] They are here, at the edge of, and across the face of, this cliff.  And, this lovely plant, growing in a crack in the rock, is early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), [photo 8] the rock breaker, one of seventeen species in my area according to Peterson’s.    

  [photo 7]                                                              [photo 8]

Over there, beside the trail, is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). [photo 9] I can’t take you to see it and I don’t know if I even dare to take a picture. It’s so shy, it sometimes dies if you look directly at it. Really. I thought it was a tall tale until I saw it happen. When it flowers, the fragrance is sensational, so I lie next to it, with my eyes closed, reveling in the scent.

Down this path there are more yellow lilies springing up from the damp ground. They are heralded by strange leaves that are mottled like a trout, thus the name trout lilies (Erythronium americanum). [photo 10] Their perfect tiny yellow flowers are used by fairies as caps or skirts, I’m sure.

     [photo 9]                                                              [photo 10]

And here, almost hidden by the leaves, is a famous plant that used to be used to help the liver, round-leaved hepatica (Hepatica americana). [photo 11] The flowers come in amazing shades of purple, blue, pink, and white. There’s no reason to disturb a relatively-rare native perennial, since there are so many abundant, common plants, like dandelion, that help the liver.

Follow me over this wall, around the fallen oak, and past the small quarry pond and we’ll soon come to my secret patch of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius). [photo 12]

  [photo 11]                                                           [photo 12]

We will continue next week.
Green blessings.

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