Native Plants on Distant Hill
A Very Useful Plant
Salidago, commonly called Goldenrod, is a genus of over 100 species of flowering perennial plants in the aster family. The majority are native to North America, with just a few species native to South America and Eurasia.
The pollen of Goldenrod is often unfairly blamed for causing hay fever in humans. However, the true culprit is the wind-dispersed pollen of Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.), which blooms at the same time as goldenrod. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be easily blown about, with the plants relying on insects for pollination.
The flowers of Goldenrod are an important source of fall nectar for bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies. The leaves are also used as a food source by the larvae of many butterfly and moth species
Humans have put Goldenrod to good use over the years. Native Americans used the seeds of some species for food. They also chewed the leaves to relieve sore throats and chewed the roots to relieve toothaches.
Solidago virgaurea, European Goldenrod, is used today as a kidney tonic by herbalists to treat inflammation and irritation caused by bacterial infections or kidney stones.
One of the more interesting uses of Goldenrod took place in the early 20th century, when Inventor Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod to produce rubber. Edison created a fertilization and cultivation process to maximize the rubber content in each plant. His experiments produced a 12-foot-tall (3.7 m) plant that yielded as much as 12% rubber. The tires on the Model T given to Edison by his friend Henry Ford were made from goldenrod.
Is There a Drugstore in Your Backyard?
Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is a native perennial wildflower that can be found growing in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens. It is an evergreen herb, 5-10 inches high with a slender, branching rootstock that produces a set of basal, dark green, ovate to elliptical leaves.
The naked flower stalk bears from 7-15 white, waxy, drooping, greenish-white flowers, which smell like lily-of-the-valley and bloom in early summer here in southern New Hampshire.
Shinleaf is also known as Waxflower Shinleaf or Wild Lily-of-the-valley.
It contains a drug closely related to aspirin. The leaves reportedly have analgesic properties and were used as a poultice on bruised shins and other sores and wounds. Such a leaf plaster was referred to as a shin plaster. Tea made from the plant is said to have been used by some native American tribes as a treatment for epileptic fits, rheumatism, indigestion, and sore throats.
I have read that Shinleaf can be propagated by root cuttings or runner divisions. If young plants are containerized, they can be brought inside in late winter to hasten growth. I think I may give it a try. It sounds like it would make a good addition to the medicine cabinet!
Our Smallest Native Dogwood
Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a woodland perennial flowering in late spring at Distant Hill Gardens. It only reachs a height of about 8 in (20 cm), unlike other taller native dogwoods that are shrubs or small trees. It grows in moist partial shade, often under conifers, and in wooded swamps, shaded bogs and peaty areas. It likes acidic soils, which we don't have much of on Distant Hill. Just a few Bunchberries grow on the acidic shore of the Cranberry Bog/fen under some native high bush blueberry plants.
According to Wikipedia, each bunchberry flower has highly elastic petals that flip backward, releasing springy filaments that are cocked underneath the petals. The filaments snap upward flinging pollen out of containers hinged to the filaments. This motion takes place in less than half a millisecond. This is one of the fastest plant actions known requiring a camera capable of shooting 10,000 frames per second to catch the action.
Cornus canadensis in known by a number of common names, incuding:
- Canada dwarf-dogwood
- Canadian dwarf cornel
- Creeping dogwood
- Eastern bunchberry
A Very Unique Native Fern...Uncommon but not Rare
The Bronze Fern, also known as Cut-leaved Grape Fern or the Common Grape Fern, is unusual in that it grows in one of two forms, a broad leaf form (Botrychium dissectum obliquum), or a skeletonized cut-leaf form (Botrychium dissectum dissectum).
This small grape fern also has an unusual life cycle. It begins it growth during the late summer, when new leaves (both fertile and infertile) are produced.
The infertile leaves remain alive during the winter, changing from a green to a beautiful bronze in response to below freezing temperatures. These leaves may wither away during the spring (although not always), and the fern persists in a dormant state during the summer, until the same cycle repeats itself beginning in the following August or September.
The Three North American Species
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America and one each in Japan and China. They are deciduous shrubs or small trees growing to 10–30ft (3–9m) tall.
Hamamelis virginiana, known as common or American witch-hazel, is a species of witch-hazel native to eastern North America. It blooms in the fall while all other species of witch-hazel bloom in late winter or early spring. H. virigiana grows naturally in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens.
Hamamelis vernalis is a species of witch-hazel native to the Ozark Plateau in central North America, in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Vernal Witch-hazel is under cultivation in our gardens at Distant Hill.
Hamamelis ovalis, known as Big leaf witch-hazel, is a new species of witch-hazel that was only discovered in July 2004, in southern Mississippi. It has since also been found in a few sites in southern Alabama.
aka 'Snapping Hazel'
The seed capsule of witch-hazel splits explosively at maturity, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 30 ft (10 m), giving it the sometimes used common name "Snapping Hazel".
Medicinal Uses of Witch-hazel
Witch hazel is an astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana). This plant extract was widely used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. They produced witch hazel extract by boiling the stems of the shrub and producing a decoction, which was used to treat swellings, inflammations, and tumors. Early Puritan settlers in New England adopted this remedy and witch hazel is a component of a variety of commercial healthcare products today.
More Interesting Facts About Witch-hazel
- Witch-hazel is one of the very few American medicinal plants approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- The botanical name, Hamamelis, translates to “together with fruit”. This refers to the fact that witch-hazel is one of the few trees/shrubs that can bear fruit, leaves and flowers simultaneously.
A Beautiful Medicinal Native Plant
American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) is one of my favorite shade-loving native plants under cultivation at Distant Hill Gardens.
American spikenard is a relative of ginseng. A perennial here at Distant Hill Gardens, it reaches up to 6 feet in height and makes a striking display in the garden. The plant produces tiny greenish-white flowers in rounded clusters in the summer and dark purple-red berries in the fall.
One of its most beautiful attributes of Aralia racemosa are its heart-shaped leaves that can reach up to 8 inches across.
We grew our Spikenard from seed gathered from native specimens in our woods.
Medicinally, the roots of American Spikenard have a number of uses, including as a diuretic and as an expectorant. Native Americans used an infusion of the roots to treat a wide variety of ailments, including tuberculosis, coughs, colds, sore throats, menstrual problems, kidney problems, and lung diseases. They also applied a poultice of the root to burns, swelling, wounds, boils, sprained muscles, and broken bones.
A Medicinal Native Plant
Western Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), also known as simply Pearly Everlasting, is a perennial wildflower that was often used medicinally by North American Indian tribes to treat a range of ailments.
Common uses for this species included poultices for treatment of sores, boiling in tea or a steam bath for rheumatism, or smoked to treat colds. The plant was also among many native species of plant used as a tobacco substitute.
Over 100 species of Anaphalis are recognized in India, south Asia, and Europe, but only one, Anaphalis margaritacea, is native to North America. All members of the genus are commonly known by the name pearl or pearly everlasting for the pearl-white involucre bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers. These bracts remain fresh in appearance long after the central disk flowers have wilted, making them well suited for dried flower arrangements.
Western Pearly Everlasting attracts both butterflies and bees and
acts as the host for Skipper, Moth and American Painted Lady caterpillars.
Three Native Orchids of Distant Hill
Downy rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera pubescens) is one of three species of the genus Goodyera native to Distant Hill Gardens. It is the most common species of rattlesnake-plantain in New England, and can be easily identified by the broad central stripe down the middle of each leaf.
The evergreen foliage is attractive year round, with individual leaves lasting 3 to 4 years. It flowers in late summer with small white flowers densely packed on a slender cylindrical spike, 6 to 18 inches tall. Downy rattlesnake-plantain can be found in the entire eastern half of the U.S. and Canada as far south as Florida.
Despite the name, rattlesnake-plantains are not related to the common lawn weed plantains, but has similar appearing rosettes of leaves. They are actually in the orchid family, Orchidaceae.
In addition to Goodyera pubescens, Distant Hill Gardens has two other species of native rattlesnake-plantain growing in our woods:
- Goodyera repens - (Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain, also known as Lesser Rattlesnake-plantain, Creeping Rattlesnake-plantain, or Northern Rattlesnake-plantain.)
- Goodyera tesselata - (Checkered or Tessellated Rattlesnake-plantain)
Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain is a hybrid of Giant Rattlesnake-plantain (G. oblongifolia), and Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain. In New England, G. oblongifolia is found only in Maine, where it is considered Endangered.
Hybrids can develop between Checkered Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera tesselata) and Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera repens). This makes these two species of Goodyera difficult to identify at times.
Are ants a valuable pollinator?
Ants are shown here feeding on the nectar and possibly pollinating flowers of Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). This native bushy perennial grows on the field edges at Distant Hill
I said "possibly pollinating" because scientists have discovered that many ants secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. This secretion protects ants from bacterial and fungal infections, but unfortunately this secretion also kills pollen grains rather quickly.
In addition, ants can actually reduce the likelihood of other pollinators visiting a plant because they are stealing the insect attracting nectar. Luckily, Spreading dogbane is also pollinated by flying insects and does not rely totally on ants. Hopefully they leave some nectar for the more efficient pollinators like bees.
A Unique Native Viburnum
Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium - syn. lantanoides) blooms in early May in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens. It is a shade loving deciduous shrub growing 6–12 ft (2–4 meters) high, with branches that will root if they touch the ground. These rooted branches form obstacles which can trip (or hobble) walkers – hence the common name.
Hobblebush succeeds well at growing in deep shade. Developing leaves before the neighboring trees leaf out gives this Viburnum access to the suns rays for two to four weeks before the over-story leaves have fully expanded. The large heart-shaped opposite leaves, up to 8 inches long, act as large solar collectors in the dark understory.
This eastern North America native has developed a number of interesting adaptations that enable it to not merely survive, but to flourish in the cold and shade. It has an antifreeze in its leaves that reduces the freezing point to 23℉ (-5℃), enabling the growing plant to withstand temperatures that would damage most other plants. At night, hobblebush maintains a low respiration rate compared to other plants using less energy. And the showy flowers in the outer ring are sterile while the small greenish flowers of the inner cluster are fertile. This enables the plant to produce flowers that are attractive to pollinators while using less energy.
The flowers are 3 inches or more across, followed by fruits that change in color from red to dark purple in late summer. The flowers provide nectar and the leaves provide food for the Celastrina ladon (Spring Azure) butterfly and its caterpillar. The fruits, leaves and twigs of this beautiful Viburnum are food for a large number of birds and mammals. In fact, one of its other common names is Moosewood.
For more on this interesting native shrubs read this Northern Woodlands article.
And for more photos on this rather extraordinary native plant and its survival mechanisms read this blog 'Hiking with Chuck'
A December Harvest of Cranberries
A December harvest of cranberries from the bog at Distant Hill Gardens. The frosts have sweetened the berries a bit, but they still have a tartness that goes well with our sweet homemade maple syrup.
Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the subgenus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. They can be found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler regions of the northern hemisphere. They are an important commercial crop in Canada and the United States.
The Health Benefits of Cranberries are many. Cranberries and cranberry juice have been found to help prevent urinary tract infections. They also have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. The cancer-preventive benefits of cranberries are known to extend to cancers of the breast, colon, lung, and prostate.
We Have Two Native Species Of Cranberries
Large Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon (syn Oxycoccus macrocarpus), is the species shown here and the one grown commercially.
Small Cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccosis, is quite similar to the large variety. Both are native to the northeastern United States and Canada.
Identifing Features the Two Species
- The size of their fruit: A quarter to half inch long (.635 - 1.25 cm) on Small Cranberry, and a half to one inch (1.25 - 2.5 cm) on Large Cranberry.
- The leaf edges: Generally rolled under on Small Cranberry and flat on the Large Cranberry.
A Poisonous but Medicinal Native Plant
American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a perennial herb that is native to much of North America and grows in the woods at Distant Hill. It is a beautiful and very vigorous plant that can grow to a height of more than ten feet.
Some research has shown that a protein contained in pokeweed, called pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP), has anti-tumor effects in mice and laboratory studies. It has also been shown to help control some viruses such as herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
According to pokesaladfestival.com, new research has revealed that a possible cure for Childhood Leukemia called (B43-PAP) is found in the common Pokeweed.
All parts of the plant are at least mildly poisonous when eaten, although the root is most toxic. Even so, the berries and dried roots are used in a few herbal remedies and the leaves can be eaten when small. Young, boiled pokeweed leaves & shoots are considered a special treat in the South and a canned version is occasionally available in grocery stores. The pokeweed leaves must be harvested before there is any noticeable red color in the leaves or stem, usually when the plant is still under about six inches tall. Even at this young age there are highly toxic alkaloids present so the leaves must be boiled in three changes of water to render them safe enough to eat. Boil for five minutes in each change of water.
The seeds are very toxic even after cooking, but the juice of the berries can be made safe by boiling. After boiling the berry juice can be made into a jam or jelly. The berry juice has also be used as a dye or as an ink.
More Medicinal Native Plants at Distant Hill
Pokeweed is yet another plant or fungi growing at Distant Hill that are known to have medicinal qualities. Others I have posted photos and info about include:
Its Tea Time
All parts of the
(Actaea pachypoda) plant are considered poisonous to humans. But, according to Wikipedia, both Native Americans and settlers made tea out of the roots for relieving pain of childbirth. The early colonists also used the plant to improve circulation and to cure headache or eyestrain. This plant is sometimes called Dolls Eyes because the white fruits resemble the china eyes once used in dolls.
In cultivation White Baneberry requires part to full shade, rich loamy soil, and regular water with good drainage to reproduce its native habitat. We have had good luck transplanting Doll's Eyes from the forest to the gardens of Distant Hill. Come late summer, the flowers will transform themselves into the large white berries shown above.
A Poisonous Native Plant (unless you are a bear)
Jack-in-the-Pulpit is one of those red-berried plants that families with small children should avoid planting in their gardens. All uncooked parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. However, the corms can be eaten by humans if processed correctly, and Black Bear, who happen to love the corms of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, can eat them without a problem.
Medicine in the Bog
Extracts of the Round-leaved Sundew, also called Common Sundew (Drosera rotundifloia) have show great efficacy as an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. The sundew was used during the middle ages to treat the plague, and is used today as a Homeopathic cough remedy.
There are hundreds of Round-leaved Sundew growing in the bog at Distant Hill Gardens. Sundews comprise one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants, with near 200 known species.
The plant feeds on insects, which are attracted to its bright red sticky tentacles. It uses enzymes to dissolve the insects and extract nitrates and other nutrients from their bodies. It is thought the Sundew has evolved this carnivorous behavior in response to its habitat, which is usually poor in nutrients or so acidic that nutrient availability is severely decreased.
The Round-leaved Sundew, one of the most widespread sundew species, is found in all of northern Europe, Siberia, Korea, Japan, New Guinea and much of northern North America.
In North America, it is considered endangered in the US states of Illinois and Iowa, exploitably vulnerable in New York, and threatened in Tennessee.
Beautiful Bog Orchids
The two acre floating bog at Distant Hill Gardens has a large number of beautiful orchids named Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides). The Latin name "Pogonia" means beard, a reference to the bearded lip on the flower. Rose Pogonia is also known as Snake Mouth, Snakemouth Orchid, Beard Flower, and Adder's Mouth.
These orchids may be found in sphagnum bogs, fens, wet meadows, roadside ditches, and acidic swamps throughout the eastern North America.
Threatened and Endangered Information
The USDA lists Rose Pogonia as threatened or endangered in several states.
The Common names below are from state lists. Click on a state name to get a complete protected plant list for that state.
|rose pogonia||Exploitably Vulnerable|
Mowed For The Monarchs
Monarchs butterflies need milkweed to survive. The caterpillars feed on the leaves, which makes them unpalatable to birds. The sap contains cardiac glycosides, which are toxic to birds.
We favor the milkweed in our fields and go out of our way to help it thrive. We have found that mowing in mid May, just as the milkweed plants are emerging, works best. It develops a healthy crop for the Monarch butterflies by cutting the already tall grasses. The milkweed isn't cut, which allows it to become the dominant plant in the field. We mow a second time in late October, after the plants have gone to seed.
Tagging Monarch Butterflies
Working with ‘Monarch Watch’ in 2003, Michael tagged a butterfly that was found six months later in El Rosario, Mexico, part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. This is the area where the majority of the Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to for the winter; an estimated 60 million to 1 billion butterflies every year. That small butterfly from New Hampshire had flown 2288 miles!
Native Woodland Wildflowers
Trillium are spring ephemeral perennials. It is a genus of over 40 species native to temperate regions of North America and Asia. We have two species of Trillium growing in the woods at Distant Hill Gardens:
Interesting Facts About Trillium
- It is illegal to pick and/or transplant trilliums from public lands without a permit in Michigan, Minnesota and New York.
- Trillium is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants. Trillium seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their garbage where they germinate.
- The above ground parts of Trilliums are scapes with three large, leaf-like bracts. The true leaves are technically the underground papery coverings around the rhizomes.
- Trillium erectum is also known as Stinking Benjamin because the flowers have the smell of rotting meat, which attracts flies as pollinators.
Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) also known as Groundnut, is a springtime herb native to eastern North America. Its distinctive tubers can be eaten raw or boiled. Native Americans drank tea made from the whole plant for medicinal purposes. It was used as a remedy for a large number of ailments, from colic to rheumatism and tuberculosis. The root was chewed for headaches, shortness of breath and fainting.
Different Soils...Different Native Plants ?
It is worth noting that Painted Trillium, which needs acidic soils to thrive, grows only on the twenty-one acres of land at Distant Hill Gardens in the town of Alstead. Both Red Trillium and Dwarf Ginseng, liking a richer soil, are found almost exclusively on the thirty-seven acres of Walpole land. Is it just that the soils are different from one town to the other? I think not.
The Alstead property has been virtually untouched by humans for at least the past 100 years. The Walpole property's forest was managed for timber and maple syrup since it first became a farm in 1790. The vegetation found on either side of the town line is like night and day. Everything we humans do, or don't do, to the land has a profound effect upon what will grow there and the health of the forest. Doing nothing is sometimes not the best course of action. In this case, the biodiversity of the property has been increased because of the difference in human interaction with these two adjacent parcels of land.