More Wildflowers

Summer seems to pass way too quickly these days. Now we are into August and heading full tilt towards September. We haven’t been afflicted yet with the blistering hot temperatures that seem to be hitting other places but the weather is dryer than it was earlier in the summer (fairly typical for this time of year).

A previous posting highlighted the wildflowers of spring found here in Northern New Hampshire. The pictures I posted were plants native to the area. A steady succession of other flowers appear throughout the months of the summer straight through to fall. But anyone whose familiarity with flowers is confined to sticking them in a vase to set on the table may be surprised to discover that many of the blossoms they see are in fact not natives but immigrants from other lands.

Daisies and clover both are non-native, the daisy from Europe and clover which is native to both Europe and Asia. With other non-natives such as wild chicory, dandelions and forget-me-nots,

they all came over at various times with the Europeans, usually in the form of seeds and roots, mixed in with ship ballast or deliberately introduced by settlers who missed the plants they were familiar with. What many of these plants have in common and what allowed them to spread throughout the countryside is that they do well in disturbed soils, so whenever settlers cleared land or plowed, the damaged ecosystems left a wide opening for intruders to establish themselves.

A non-native plant is referred to as ‘naturalized’ when it’s able to grow on its own and reproduce without human aid. It becomes referred to as ‘invasive’ when it begins crowding out native species and altering the eco-system by sheer force of numbers. Kudzu is a good example of this. Without the natural predators and plant diseases that kept it in check back in Japan, it grows madly over everything in its path, causing some to refer to it as the ‘vine that ate the South’

New Hampshire has its share of invasive non-native flowers, the most notorious being purple loosestrife. It favors marshy areas and any spot with a bit of dampness. The drought last year severely curbed their growth so I hardly saw any. But this year with the return of the rains, loosestrife is once again blooming in profusion. As with other invasives it threatens to crowd out natives that many animals depend on for food, shelter and nesting material. Efforts are underway to reduce its impact through biological control such as insects that specifically attack the loosestrife, careful application of herbicides or by simply going out and physically pulling up the plant.

The list of flowers along with other plants that are invasive can get pretty depressing to look at when you realize the sheer number of them ensures we will never be able to completely rid ourselves of them. I have been engaged in a never-ending battle with a plant called Bishop’s weed, sometimes referred to as goutweed. It can take over a garden with amazing speed if you don’t stay on top of it. With three-lobed leaves and a flower umbral resembling Queen Anne’s Lace, the plant can form small carrot like roots and you must be careful to try and get every speck of root or it will regenerate itself before you can say &%!*. I have seen some areas in other parts of town covered in a solid mass of these plants and quite frankly am surprised not to see them on the New Hampshire invasive list. After fruitless years of trying to eradicate it, this flower is definitely in the pest category.

This summer I spotted several flowering plants in the backyard that were clearly orchids.

The orchid family is the second largest (about 20,000 species) after the sunflower family with a number still undescribed by science, so for a few brief ecstatic moments I harbored notions of a newly discovered species with a Latinized version of my name attached to it. Alas, no. This small orchid, the blossoms not much more than an inch or so in length, already has a name and it is called Helleborine. Even worse it’s a non-native plant. Evidently brought over from Europe as a medicinal and ornamental plant, it escaped from the gardens it was planted in and has established itself over New England and Canada. It is listed as a restricted plant in Wisconsin but apparently is not enough of a pest to be listed as an annoyance in other areas.

Preserving local ecosystems is high priority for those who love nature but saving dwindling birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects can only happen if the plants they depend on are preserved as well. The population of Monarch Butterflies is crashing towards extinction because they only feed on milkweed which imparts a bitter flavor to the caterpillars making them unpalatable to hungry birds. Now these vital plants are being plowed under and replaced by monoculture crops doused with toxic herbicides. Passenger pigeons became extinct not only because they were overhunted but because vital habitat was destroyed.

Invasive plants of any sort compromise our ability to maintain important habitat for our fellow creatures. There’s a lot everyone can do to reverse this. Educate yourself on what native plants you should expect to see in your area. Pull up noxious invasive weeds (no matter how pretty they are), then plant and support native plants. Countless resources can be found to provide information. These issues cropped up because of the thoughtless actions of our ancestors. It’s high time we began rectifying them.

“My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land – to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas and thus help pass on to generations in waiting the quiet joys and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.”
– Lady Bird Johnson