You may have spotted a strange little white flower growing in dark parts of the forest—often around beech trees—and mistaken it for a fungi, but Indian Pipe (a.k.a. Ghost Pipe) is actually an amazing kind of plant.
It contains no chlorophyll so, unlike most plants, it is white or pale pink in color instead of green. Without chlorophyll, it can’t make energy from the sun through photosynthesis, so how does this “ghostly” little flower get its food? Indian Pipe is parasitic, stealing its nutrients from certain fungi that in turn have a symbiotic relationship with tree roots.
Because it doesn’t need sunlight for energy, it can often be found in very shady spots on the forest floor and its ephemeral (short) growth cycle means it only appears for brief periods, usually after a rain that breaks a longer dry spell.
With their “ghostly” pallor and “sinister” parasitic appetite, these fascinating flowers make for a great way to celebrate Halloween, don’t you think? Enjoy these five photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and have a happy, spooky Halloween!
Before you mow them down or,
worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the
dandelions in your yard a second chance.
How They Got Here
The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.
A Useful Weed
Many people think of them as a
noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier
than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for
honeybees and native pollinators.
They are host plants for the
caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard
Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and
water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.
This year, help out our native
pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting
dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for
honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to
these insect pollinators.
One of the earliest native spring flowers to bloom is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Look for a single white flower, typically with eight petals, emerging from a protective leaf. The stem, leaves, and roots produce a blood-red sap. The seeds have oil-rich growths called elaiosomes that ants relish. The insects carry the seeds to their nests, helping spread bloodroot across the forest floor.
Nothing banishes the winter blues like the reassuring sight of the spring’s first wildflowers. Many plants bloom while the deciduous trees above them are still bare; they soak up sunlight on the season’s first warm days before trees can shade out the forest floor. Here are five of the earliest flowers to spot.
Mayflower (Epigaea repens)
This is the state flower of Massachusetts. It’s also known as the Plymouth mayflower. According to legend, it was the first flower that the pilgrims saw after their first hard winter. A creeping plant, mayflower has small pink to white blooms. The leathery oval-shaped leaves stay green throughout the year.
Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
This small lily’s strange name comes from its splotchy leaves, which are said to resemble the mottled scales of a brook-trout. The bright yellow flowers point downward. They close on cloudy days and at night when bees and other pollinators aren’t active.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Look for a single white flower, typically with eight petals, emerging from a protective leaf. The stem, leaves, and roots produce a blood-red sap. The seeds have oil-rich growths called elaiosomes that ants relish. The insects carry the seeds to their nests, helping spread bloodroot across the forest floor.
Blunt-loped Hepatica(Anemone americana)
Clusters of white, pink, or purple flowers bloom amid leathery three-lobed leaves. The name “hepatica” comes from the Greek word for liver—medieval doctors thought that hepatica leaves looked like the body part, and that this meant that the plant would cure liver ailments. As with bloodroot, this plant’s seeds are dispersed by ants.
Look for one white to pinkish flower rising above three to five leaves. This plant’s species name quinquefolia means “five-leaved,” because each leaf is jagged and gives the appearance of being five instead of one.
Have you seen any of these early blooms yet? If so share where and when in the comments.
Most think spring is the perfect time for planting. The nurseries are stocked with colorful plants and everything is in bloom…but that’s the problem. Spring turns into summer and before you know it the temperatures are in the mid 80s and it hasn’t rained for weeks.
In our recent New England springs, the weather has gone from a late winter freeze into summer heat wave within a few days. This puts stress on a plant that is pushing out new leaves to make food (going through the process of photosynthesis), trying to reproduce (make flowers), and grow new roots.
What most people don’t realize is that autumn is the perfect time to plant. Here are just a few reasons why:
Now that leaf, seed, and flower production are complete, plants have nothing but cooler days to contend with and roots are the only thing they have to grow.
Along with the cooler temperatures comes end-of-season sales. That Oxydendron (Sourwood) tree you wanted all season? It now costs less and it’s showing its beautiful burgundy autumn foliage.
Watering is also easier now because, unlike summer months, town water bans have usually been lifted.
Need to patch your lawn? Do it in the autumn! Spring and fall are seasons when grass is the greenest. Grass will sprout in the warm days of the autumn and continue to grow until the ground freezes.
Plant bulbs for spring color in the autumn. Bulbs need to be planted in the autumn to develop roots before the ground freezes. Early blooming crocus give pollinators such as honey bees nectar early in the season when very few other flowers are in bloom. Daffodils are deer and rodent resistant and live for many years. Tulips add late April and May color.
A little bit of work in the cool of the autumn will give you a beautiful yard in the spring. So what are you waiting for? Get planting!