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Saugus Gardens in the Fall

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


“Little Shop of Horrors” being performed soon by the Theatre Company of Saugus may prompt people to think a bit about carnivorous plants, real and fanciful. The popularity of this classic play has also inspired some spooky artificial plants I have seen on sale among the Halloween decorations in many shops. “Audrey II” is often described as a cross between a Venus flytrap and a butterwort.

Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are the most dramatic and readily recognized of North American carnivorous plants, although they grow wild only in North and South Carolina and possibly a few sites in Florida. Wild populations have dramatically decreased due to habitat loss and poaching. The plants legally sold as house plants are grown in greenhouses and not wild collected, which has been illegal since the mid-20th century but still occurs despite being elevated to the level of a felony. As a houseplant, they can help control small spiders and insects and serve as a source of macabre entertainment because you may see the leaves snap shut when a suitable insect enters the trap.

While Venus flytraps won’t be found outdoors in New England, there are several other carnivorous plants that do grow here. Sundews (Drosera spp.) and pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) grow in boggy areas. Bladderworts (Utricularia spp.) include land growing and aquatic plants. I have seen them blooming in local ponds, including at Breakheart Reservation, in the summer – the air-filled bladders that allow them to float trap small aquatic creatures and insects just under the water’s surface while the flowers float on top of the water. Butterworts (Pinguicula spp.) grow in moist, rocky places and have sticky traps on their leaves.

The first “Saugus Gardens” column I wrote in April of 2020 featured forsythia (Forsythia spp.), which was at that time blooming in every neighborhood in town, the four petalled golden blossoms lighting up gardens even before the shrub’s leaves emerged from their buds. In spring of 2023, the cheery flowers were noticeably lacking, along with many other spring flowers we were accustomed to seeing. As sometimes happens when weather is capricious, a few flowers may come out at unusual times of the year. I have sometimes seen blossoms on forsythia in November, before or after the fall foliage leaves, and in January when there may be snow but mild temperatures. My own forsythia bushes have no flowers, but I have seen potted ones in the nursery with a few blossoms out, and bouquets of blooming forsythia branches were for sale this week in at least one store on Route 1. The forsythia in the vase on my table certainly did not grow in Saugus, and I suspect they were flown up to New England from South America, which supplies many bouquets to the northern hemisphere. It is spring now in the southern hemisphere, so we might expect some gardens there to look the way April often does for us.

Forsythia is sometimes confused with another four-petalled yellow flower that grows on a shrub: common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Our native witch hazel is in bloom right now, it’s very narrow petals still somewhat hidden by the foliage. The flowers become more noticeable in November when the leaves are gone and may persist into December if temperatures are mild. There’s a lot of this in bloom in Breakheart, but I didn’t have to go beyond my front yard to see the blooms. While this one is native to New England, Asian hybrids the ‘Arnold’s Promise’ witch hazel (Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’) are expected to bloom in March and April, overlapping the forsythia’s normal bloom time.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

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