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Archive for the ‘Native Plants’ Category

Waves of purple, pink and white lupins splash across Nova Scotia this time of year.

Their spires decorate the wayside and abandoned fields.

Although they’re not our provincial flower (the mayflower is), their image is often found on postcards and their seeds are sold at shops catering to tourists.

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.
~ Iris Murdoch

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Fascinated by the play of light filtering through the trees onto the tangled undergrowth, it’s no wonder why Vincent van Gogh made so many paintings of such scenes.

Trees and Undergrowth by van Gogh

The effect of light changes from one minute to the next as clouds pass overhead and the breeze affects the movement of the leaves.  The time of day also plays a role in how warm the light will appear on foliage and bark.

Nature is always changing, never stagnant, but some environments tend to reveal that quality more than others, and it’s no surprise that it’s in those places that we most feel alive.

Undergrowth by van Gogh

In springtime, new undergrowth looks especially fresh as a myriad of tiny plants blend together to create a living mosaic.  Ferns unfurled add a lushness to the forest floor.  Carpets of green wood sorrel replace last autumn’s dried leaves.

The emergent undergrowth provides a contrast to the vertical lines of the lichen covered trees.  As saplings, these trees too were once a part of the undergrowth.  Now their ongoing competition for light forces them to soar above one another, revealing their green lushness only in the canopy.

Trees with undergrowth of young balsam firs

Although he often exaggerated the intensity of Nature’s palette, van Gogh understood the importance of  being outdoors to witness the effect of light on a landscape.  Pictures and photographs can only begin to tell the story.  Whether or not you’re a painter, the woods are waiting for a visit from you to show off their new spring growth.

Lady’s slipper orchids growing in Nova Scotia woods

 It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to…. The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.
~ Vincent van Gogh

Wood sorrel carpeting the forest floor

Paintings by Vincent van Gogh shown above:
Trees and Undergrowth (1887)
Section of Undergrowth with Two Figures (June 1890 Auvers)

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Violets have been blooming in the woods and yard for the past few weeks. Their time is coming to an end… Soon I’ll be able to mow the lawn without having to worry about cutting them down.

Wild white violets growing in the lawn

They’re so delicate and small that they’re frequently overlooked.  Perhaps it’s their half-hidden shy nature that makes them so endearing.  The Lucy in Wordsworth’s poem must have been a wild violet…

SHE dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!
~ William Wordsworth

Tame violets, on the other hand, are a deeper more showy purple with large leaves that are easier to spot in the flower bed.

Tame violets

If you have the patience to pick them, wild violets are edible and an aromatic addition to teas.  They can be dried or eaten fresh.

A violet tea with sponge cake

Violets are a reminder of slower times, when people took a moment to take notice of the gentler arts on a regular basis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make an effort to take back some of these enjoyable moments, if only each year at Violet Time.

You can learn more about the Manners of Wild Violets in a previous post here.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Sometimes it’s difficult to tell one cat from another, especially if they’re plants, not animals.

A cattail from last year looking ragged in springtime

In the spring, last year’s cattails look shabby and ragged.  An aggressive native species, colonies of this spike-like plant are commonly found in ditches and freshwater wetlands.  The soft down-like seeds are easily dispersed by the wind.  Besides being employed by birds to line nests, the down was used by First Nation’s people as a firestarter and to line moccasins and papooses.  Many parts of the plant are edible.  (For more see the Wikipedia page for Typha at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typha) New green cattails will appear later this summer and turn brown as the season progresses.

Cattails growing in a ditch.

Cattails are often confushed with catkins, the male (and sometimes male/female) reproductive part on some trees and bushes.  Below are catkins on an alder tree.    The word ‘catkin’ is derived from the Dutch word for kitten.  In late spring, these catkins certainly look like kittens’ tails.

Male catkins on a speckled alder in May

In the next image, you can see the greenish catkins as they appeared earlier this spring, hard and closed.  Also visible on the leafless branches are small brown cones leftover from last year.  These cones hold many small seeds that are a favorite of chickadees.

New catkins on speckled alder with last year’s cones

Below are the pussywillows that are such a welcome sight in early spring.  Their soft grey fur invites petting by young and old.  As a child I recall my first grade class glueing these to an image of a kitten to provide texture and color.  It was a common craft back then when most children had access to pussywillows near their homes.

Pussywillows are a type of catkin growing on willow trees or bushes.  Eventually, they go to seed and appear quite different than when they first emerged from the branch.

By now, it’s difficult to find evidence of  pussywillows in our woods.  However, fresh green catkins can now be found on the yellow birch trees.

Yellow birch catkin

With such staggered and changing appearances, cattails, catkins and pussywillows can seem as mysterious as their feline namesake.  Perhaps that’s part of their charm.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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