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Flowering Plants

One-flowered Cancer-root Flowering

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One-flowered Cancer-root (Orobanche uniflora), also known as One-flowered Broomrape, is now flowering  in fens — wetlands similar to bogs, but less acidic and more mineral-rich.  Covered with glandular hairs, its flower looks like it’s made of crystallized sugar. One plant produces up to five flowering stalks, each of which bears a single, fragrant, white-to-lavender flower.

One-flowered Cancer-root has no chlorophyll in the scale-like leaves that grow on its underground stem, and thus is incapable of making its own food. This parasitic plant is classified as a holoparasite – entirely dependent upon other host plants for its nutritional needs. A One-flowered Cancer-root seedling must find a suitable host plant (often sedums, saxifrages and asters) within a few days of germinating or die. The search for a host by One-flowered Cancer-root is guided by chemicals released by the growing roots of the host species. Once a host plant is located, the One-flowered Cancer-root’s root hairs exude an adhesive substance that attaches its roots to those of the host plant. Enzymes break down the cell walls of the host, and a tuber-like connection (haustorium) forms between the vascular tissue of the two plants, allowing the movement of water, minerals and carbohydrates to flow in one direction, from host to parasite. (Thanks to Shiela and Steve Swett for photo op.)

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Clintonia Flowering

6-13-17 clintonia 166A shade-loving member of the Lily family, Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) forms colonies throughout moist woods of the Northeast. It reproduces via rhizomes as well as seeds, which accounts for its colonial habit. This wildflower has many common names, among them Bluebead, which reflects the brilliant blue color of its summer berries.

Native Americans used Clintonia as an eye and heart medicine, as well as a dermatological and gynecological aid. Of particular note are its thick, fleshy leaves, which made perfect palettes for Chippewa children who are said to have delighted in making designs in the leaves with their teeth. It’s likely they did this with young leaves, which taste something like cucumbers, as opposed to older leaves, which are tough and bitter.

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Wild Chervil Flowering

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You can’t drive very far right now without seeing a sea of tiny, white flowers belonging to an invasive plant, Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris), crowding the shoulders of the road. A member of the carrot family, Wild Chervil leafs out early in the spring before most native plants and consequently shades them out and displaces them. It spreads aggressively and produces many seeds that are dispersed by birds, water and mowing (after the seeds have set).

Native to Europe, Wild Chervil was introduced in the early 1900’s to North America in wildflower seed mixes intended to reproduce the European countryside in gardens. Little did gardeners know that among these seeds was a plant that would outcompete native plant species and drastically reduce wildlife habitat. In addition to choking out native plants, Wild Chervil also is the host for a virus that infects carrots, parsnips, and celery.

Because it is a prolific seed-producer Wild Chervil can be challenging to eradicate. The best way to control it is to stop it from flowering and setting seed, but unless you mow early, every year, before its flower buds open, this isn’t a very effective method. Its up to six-foot-long taproot makes removing it by hand extremely difficult, but possible; however, this method also runs the risk of breaking off lateral buds at the top of its roots that can grow into new plants. Beware — Wild Chervil looks a lot like Poisonous Hemlock (Conium maculatum).

One of the few positive things to be said about Wild Chervil is that its flowers are a source of nectar for small bees, parasitic wasps, flies and beetles. Black Swallowtail larvae feed on the foliage.   Many of these flowers are being visited now by thousands of flies in the Bibionidae family. Pull over the next time you see clouds of white smothering the edge of a road and look for these tiny, black flies. The males are the ones with the big eyes (pictured).

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Trinity Flower

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Purple Trillium, Large-flowered Trillium and Painted Trillium all flower in the month of May. Another name for trilliums is Trinity Flower, referring to the plant’s parts which are arranged in three’s or in multiple of threes. Three leaves, three sepals, three petals, six stamens, three stigmas and an ovary that has three compartments. (Photo: Purple Trillium, Trillium erectum)

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Bigtooth Aspen Male Catkins

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Aspens, cottonwoods, poplars – all are names for certain species of trees in the genus Populus. These trees, as well as birch, hickory, oak and willow trees, produce their flowers on spikes called catkins. Telling the catkins of these trees from one another is challenging, to say the least, yet some of NC’s readers correctly identified the catkins in the photograph as those of Bigtooth Aspen, Populus grandidentata. This tree blooms for one to two weeks in the spring and its mature male catkins open and extend to two to four inches in length. The wind, as opposed to insects, disperses the light, fluffy yellow pollen as the catkins dangle in the breeze. Some of the pollen remains intact even after the tree has shed its spent catkins onto the ground.

Because Bigtooth Aspen, and most species of Populus, are dioecious (male and female flowers develop on separate trees), there are only male flowers in this photo and beneath this tree. After fertilization, female flowers remain on the tree and form capsules which contain several small seeds embedded in tufts of fine, white hair. They will fill the air in several weeks looking like bits of floating cotton.

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Leatherwood Flowering

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Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) is a slow-growing, deciduous shrub that is present but relatively uncommon in the Northeast. In the spring, as early as March in southern New England, its tiny, bell-shaped yellow flowers burst into bloom. The leaf buds have yet to open when this happens, so even though the flowering season is short, these shrubs and their flowers are very noticeable.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Leatherwood is its tough, elastic, and very strong bark for which it was named. Its twigs are pliable to the point where you can almost bend them in half without breaking them. Native Americans recognized these qualities and used the bark for making bow strings, baskets, fishing line and rope.

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The Persistent Capsules of Lady’s Slippers

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While the pink, yellow and white pouches of lady’s slippers no longer grace the landscape, the results of their pollination do. Capsules rising above the surrounding ground on single stalks can be seen where lady’s slippers used to reside. These fruits will persist through the winter and even into the next flowering season.

A close look reveals slits along the length of the capsule. Wind, rain or wildlife passing by will shake the capsule, causing thousands of dust-like seeds to be dispersed. Because they carry no food reserves, these seeds must establish a relationship with a mycorrhizal fungus in order to germinate. (photo: Showy Lady’s Slipper flower and fruit)

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