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Posts Tagged ‘Plants’

Warnings are posted along the Salt Marsh Trail to remind people to stay away from the poison ivy.  This plant causes extreme itching on contact with the skin of both humans and animals.  Swellings, bumps and blisters may follow.

Poison ivy plants are characterized by green leaves arranged in groups of three.  They look fairly harmless and are either found by themselves in a large mass or hidden among other plants.   Along the Salt Marsh Trail, they are right at the edge of the path in some places, making it very easy for an unsuspecting child or dog to brush up against.

This year’s especially wonderful growing season has enabled most plants to grow earlier in the season and larger than usual.  Poison ivy is no exception.  Please exercise caution along the trail and in the woods as you enjoy the outdoors this summer. 

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The wayside in June is full of unexpected colors. You may walk or drive past something beautiful for several days before the sun sits upon it in a manner that catches your attention.  The bright pink chives, shown above, stand out in the sunshine as they grow in the grey gravel.  How they managed to thrive on the side of a busy road is a mystery.


Lupins are not an uncommon sight along the roadsides in Nova Scotia.  Yet every June, they bring delight to drivers and walkers alike.  Whether they’re growing on the side of a ditch or next to a trail, their pink and purple hues are a welcome sight.

One doesn’t usually expect to see roses growing in eel grass along a rocky shore.  Like life, beauty manages to find a way.

Hidden in the shade, a profusion of wild violets bloom with abandon near a forest trail.  To see so many in one spot is a wonder.

The delicate lady slippers one finds while out romping in the woods don’t bring half the joy of the single one found growing unexpectedly next to a path in one’s own yard.  Lady slippers don’t take well to being transplanted, and so will only grow where they want to grow.

In the early morning light, burgundy colored brush appears to be ablaze against the cool June greens of the marsh grass.   

Often it’s the meals that we don’t cook that give us the greatest pleasure.  Similarly, it’s the plants that we don’t grow ourselves but suddenly appear on the landscape, without any expectation on our part, that bring us the greatest delight.  In both instances, the element of surprise seems to be a key ingredient to finding enjoyment in the everyday.

Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.
~ Samuel Johnson

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The first wildflowers to bloom in Nova Scotia every spring are often mistaken for dandelions.  Coltsfoot has small yellow flowers that will appear along the roadside and in moist waste areas as early as March.  Their appearance usually coincides with first sightings of robins and pussywillows.

Non-natives, they were introduced to North America from Europe and are presently widespread across the Eastern Seaboard.  In Europe, their image has sometimes been used as a logo for apothecaries (pharmacies).  The blooms, stems and leaves have been regarded for millennia as a helpful medicinal herb.

Coltsfoot blooms appear long before the leaves.  Once the blooms die away, large hoof-shaped leaves emerge.    Dried leaves from last season can be seen in the image below.  In summer, the leaves are usually a dark green with a velvety white underside.

Like dandelions, coltsfoot blooms close at night and on overcast days.  Their closure often acts as a bioindicator for predicting rain.

Dried coltsfoot leaves have been smoked as a tobacco for relief of asthma and bronchial infections.    As a cough remedy, they’ve also been steeped as a tea.  Recent scientific research indicates that coltsfoot causes toxicity in the livers of rats.  Whether it’s considered a remedy or a poison is likely dependent on dosage.

Downy coltsfoot blooms that have gone to seed are used by goldfinches as a lining for their nests.

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bunch berries

The fastest plant in the world resides unassumingly in Nova Scotia’s cool woods. Botanists have discovered that the petals of bunchberries move at a speed of 22 feet per second when they open, releasing a flurry of pollen into the air.

In late summer however, it’s the red berries of this plant that dot the forest floor.  Their leaves are worn and streaked with burgundy, duller versions of the fresh green plants that brightened the ground back in June.

buncberryThese bland tasting berries are edible but far less enjoyable to the palate than the blackberries available in the wild at this time of year.  Yet children often enjoy them and find them easy to pick.  Berries can be found on plants consisting of six leaves.  Also known as dwarf dogwood, the plant will acquire an overall burgundy color later in the fall.  Berries dry as the season progresses, providing food for deer, moose, grouse and songbirds.

With a preference for acidic woods, bunchberries often grow in partially shaded spots.  They are known to neutralize the effects of acid rain.

Known as Cornus canadensis in Latin, bunchberries are native to northern North America and have a history of being used medicinally for kidney ailments, to lower fevers and treat infant colic.  Leaves have been applied topically to stop bleeding and heal wounds.  Berries can be made into a poultice to treat burns or taken internally to help counteract the negative effects of ingesting poisonous plants.  Their use is being investigated for cancer treatment.  

bunchberries in bloom

High in pectin, berries can also be made into jellies and puddings. In the fall, they were gathered by native people by the bushel full and later either frozen or stored in bear fat for use in winter. The berries are thought to promote mental strength and clarity which is reason enough to give them a try.

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