An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Flowering Plants

Thimbleweed Seeds Dispersing

11-9-15 thimbleweed 087Often Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) is overlooked when its white flowers are blooming during the summer, but its seed head is rarely missed in the fall. When flowering, stamens surround a green cone that elongates into a cylindrical fruit twice as long as it is wide, giving this member of the Buttercup family its name. The seeds mature in the fall, and the style, part of the female reproductive structure that remains attached to the developing seed, develops a woolly texture, turning the “thimble” into a ball of fluff. A close look reveals that this “cottonball” consists of many tiny dark seeds, each of which bears a cottony tuft to enhance its dispersal by the wind.

Thimbleweed produces chemicals which inhibit seed germination and seedling growth in many species of plants, so often the ground is relatively bare around this plant. Mammalian herbivores usually leave Thimbleweed alone because the foliage contains a blistering agent that can irritate the mouth parts and digestive tract.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

False Solomon’s Seal Fruiting

10-9-15 false solomon's seal berries  079False Solomon’s Seal’s (Maianthemum racemosum) leaves are starting to lose their chlorophyll, bringing attention to its bright red fruit this time of year. This member of the Lily family’s flower arrangement differs from true Solomon’s Seal’s (Polygonatum biflorum) whose flowers dangle down below the leaves singly or in pairs. There are several theories as to the derivation of False Solomon’s Seal’s name, ranging from the appearance of its leaf scars (King Solomon supposedly was responsible for their markings which resemble a signet ring with Hebrew letters) to its six-pointed flowers that resemble the Star of David which was commonly called Solomon’s Seal.

False Solomon’s Seal often appears in clusters, as the stems are the annual growths off of a perennial rhizome (the subterranean stem of a plant). In the spring, each stem develops a terminal cluster of small, white, star-shaped flowers. Bees and beetles are the chief pollinators that enable the plant to produce green berries that turn red in the late summer and fall (soil pH affects the final coloration of the fruit formed). The roots of False Solomon’s Seal have been used medicinally in a number of ways, but one of the more unusual ways of utilizing this plant was that of a Native American tribe in California that used an effusion of crushed False Solomon’s Seal roots to stun fish and facilitate their harvest from streams.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

Red-osier & Silky Dogwood Fruits Ripening

10-6-15 silky dogwood 291Some of the most prolific flowering shrubs in the Northeast are dogwoods. In the spring, their flowers attract attention and at this time of year their colorful fruit stands out. There are many species of dogwood, two of which are Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum). These two shrubs can be hard to tell apart, as they both have white flowers, red stems and similar foliage. In the fall, however, the color of their fruit differs, as does their pith, or central stem tissue. The mature berries of Red-osier Dogwood are dull white and its pith is also white. Silky Dogwood’s blue berries have white blotches, and its stem and branches have a salmon-colored pith.

The fruit of these dogwoods and others is an extremely important source of food for many migrating songbirds, as well as resident birds. Wood ducks, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, American Robins, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Cedar Waxwings and Downy Woodpeckers all consume dogwood berries.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

Buttonbush Seeds Maturing

9-17-15  buttonbush flowering IMG_2573During the summer, Buttonbush’s one-and-a-half-inch-diameter, white flower balls can be spotted along shorelines and in wetlands. The fragrance of this shrub’s flowers attracts many pollinators, especially bumblebees and butterflies (their tongues are long enough to reach the deep nectaries). After pollination, the 200-plus flowers on each head of this member of the Coffee family produce small nutlets that are dispersed by water and consumed by waterfowl (particularly surface-feeding dabbling ducks), American Bitterns, rails and Northern Bobwhites. (photo: buttonbush seed head)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

Snakeroot Flowering

9-17-15 snakeroot  261Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a perennial with clusters of tiny flower heads each containing multiple white flowers at the tip of its stem. Its roots were used to make a poultice to treat snakebites, hence, its common name. Large patches of Snakeroot can be found flowering in Northeast woods at this time of year. Eventually tiny black seeds with white, hairy wisps are dispersed by the wind.

Snakeroot contains a toxin called tremetol that is toxic. An animal may die from eating either a large amount of Snakeroot at one time or small amounts over a long period. When the plant is consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. If this contaminated meat or milk is consumed, the poison is passed on, and if enough is ingested, it can cause “milk sickness” in humans, a potentially lethal illness. Thousands of mid-West settlers in the early 1800’s died from this disease (possibly including Abraham Lincoln’s mother) as they were unfamiliar with the plant and its effect on their cattle. Snakeroot is also poisonous to horses, goats and sheep. Today small amounts are used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments, from high blood pressure to insomnia. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam for photo op.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

Red Trillium Seeds Being Dispersed By Ants

9-10-15 red trillium fruit and seeds  092The flower of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum), also known as Stinking Benjamin and Wake Robin, is familiar to many, as it is one of our more common spring ephemerals. The three reddish-maroon (some populations have white, yellow-green, or paler red) petals of its flower are colored and smell faintly like rotten meat. Lacking nectar, these flowers rely on deception to bring in pollinators which are primarily flies and beetles that are typically attracted to dead animals.

Once a Red Trillium flower is pollinated, the Hershey Kiss-shaped red fruit begins to develop. The seeds of Red Trillium have oily appendages called “elaiosomes” which attract a number of insects, particularly ants. These elaiosomes (also called “ant snacks”) contain lipids and protein highly sought after by ants. The ants carry the seeds down into their underground tunnels where they feed the elaiosomes to their larvae and dispose of the seeds in their compost pile. Here they they put their droppings, or frass, as well as dead ants. Conditions for germination are ideal in such a spot, and, in fact, research shows a greater germination rate for seeds with elaiosomes than those without them.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.

Grass of Parnassus Flowering

e-grass of Parnassus 008Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia glauca, (also known as Bog- Star) was named after Mount Parnassus in central Greece. It is not a type of grass, but rather, belongs to the family Celastraceae and can be found growing in fens, bogs and swamps. The striking green lines on its petals guide flies, bees and other pollinating insects to the flower’s supply of nectar.

The structure of Grass of Parnassus’s flower is not typical. In between its five functioning stamens and five petals there is a whorl of five sterile stamens, each of which is three-pronged. The spherical tip of each prong mimics a glistening droplet of nectar. These stamens do not actually produce any nectar – they are there purely to attract pollinators. The actual nectar is located near the base of these false, or sterile, stamens. Only one of the five true stamens in the flower is active at any one time, with each producing pollen on average once every 24 hours.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,790 other followers