Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Buttonbush and Brasenia

Not long ago we discovered a new trail that starts in our town and ends in the next. The Sweet Trail winds around and over hills, past large boulders, under tall white pines and red oaks, and near dozens of wetlands. This trail has become a favorite place to spend an hour or so each day.

The wetlands are crowded with life -- frogs and more frogs (this is a frog year), green herons (a good frog year means a good heron year and then a not so good year for some frogs), wood ducks and geese, and dense vegetation. The beaver are in there somewhere too, keeping the water levels up.

A couple plants caught my eye this week as we've hiked short stretches of the Sweet Trail.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is in bloom, its small white flowers form a one inch round ball that looks more like a pincushion than a button. The stamens stick out like pins beyond the white petals.

The balls of young buds are smaller and green.

The buttonbush leaves are opposite or in whorls of threes. Note the red trigs of new growth. This shrub grows along wetland edges and out in shallow waters.

Another prominent wetland plant is watershield or Brasenia schreberi. Walking by a freshwater wetland such as these beaver ponds, one might mistake watershield for a young water lily or even algae since it covers much of the water surface. But it is neither. Watershield is in the water lily family, but it is alone in its Genus Brasenia.

The leaves are distinct from water lilies in several ways. They are shaped like a canoe, pointed at both ends. The leaf is entire with no slit, whereas the yellow pond lily and white water lily have large leaves with a slit.

The leaf is green on top and maroon or purplish below. The submerged stem attaches to the center of the leaf from below. The stem and underside of the leaf are covered in a jelly-like substance. Makes it slippery to handle. Small reddish flowers poke up above the leaves.

One particular leaf caught my eye. Do you notice it in the picture above or below?

There it is, trying to imitate a fish!

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