Tuesday, August 26, 2008

18. Buckwheat

The leaves of Fagopyrum esculentum are beautifully arrow-shaped and emerald green. I brought a stem with a flowering head in to my kitchen windowsill, and got to see one of the flowers begin to turn to that familiar triangular buckwheat hull.

There is a great recipe for Kasha Varnishkas in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley, but the preparation is a bit labor intensive for this 30-minute (or less) meal gal. The homemade vegetarian gravy makes the dish! The leeks and portobello mushrooms make this a great fall dish.

17. Nodding Smartweed

Polygonum Lapathifolium is part of the Buckwheat family. Something interesting about this plant is that its stems are jointed, and reminded me of bamboo a bit, espcially with the long thin leaves that occur near the flowers. Other names for this plant include Pale, Water, or Dock-Leaf Smartweed.

16. Bittersweet Nightshade

This tiny jewel of a flower was the only one still open in the area (the boundary between the backyard and the woods that abut them), and I was so pleased to find it. Unfortunately, either my camera does not have a setting for extreme close-ups or I just haven't found it yet. I've actually come across Solanum dulcamara before now, but the flowers had already borne fruit, which made it harder for me to recognize. (How many red-berried plants can there be within walking distance of my house? Answer: perhaps too many to identify.) Part of the potato family, this climbing, vine-like wildflower is also called Purple Nightshade, and its berries are, in the words of Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, "somewhat poisonous."

15. Bull Thistle

This big fella had me stumped, due to where I found it. Cirsium vulgare is generally found along roadsides, in fields, and in waste places. And this thistle was all by its lonesome at the side of one of the dampest areas of a wooded path. Must be Marsh or Swamp Thistle, thought I. No, those have smooth, not thorny stems. And this one was definitely thorny, as you can see by the "rigid, yellow-tipped spines on the flower bracts" (Dwelley, 347). An interesting aspect to this particular plant is that its leaves do not look fully developed. Perhaps the sparsity of sunlight made the plant conserve where it could (i.e., less developed leaves) while still allowing the flower to bloom and the plant to reproduce? Will have to check.

Monday, August 18, 2008

14. Indian Pipe

Here, at last, is O.'s find: Monotropa uniflora, or Corpse Plant, as it is also known. I might have missed this one, thinking is was a fungus instead of a plant, and, indeed it is a saphrophytic plant, feeding on decaying organic matter. The flower nods at first, then turns upright in fruit,
and eventually turns black. It also turns black when picked (which I read but also saw when O. originally brought his discovery home, but forgot to photograph). The stems are scaly, and the entire plant is waxy. Part of the Heath Family. If you can see what surrounds the Indian Pipe in the lower photo, you'll know why O. now sports a nice rash on his chin.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

13. Spotted Touch-Me-Not

These lovely little orange flowers are Impatiens capensis. Also called "jewelweed" and "quick-in-the-hand," Spotted Touch-Me-Not has seed capsules that, when ripe (in autumn), burst at the merest touch, scattering seeds all around. Also historically used as a remedy for hemorrhoids, among a few other complaints.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

12. Common or Highbush Blackberry

Quickberry, Quackberry,
Pick me a blackberry!
Trainberry, trackberry,

Rumble and ramble
in blackberry bramble
Billions of berries
for blackberry jamble!

From Jamberry, by Bruce Degen, one of M.'s favorites, and probably his favorite four pages of the whole thing (the train).

These blackberries (Rubus allegheniesnsis (argutus)) were much sweeter than the ones I bought at the organic farm stand two days ago. I need to figure out what to do with those--they are too tart to eat. Now, blackberry jam, blackberry vinegar, or blackberry wine? Though I have to say I had a lovely black raspberry margarita tonight, and could see what I could do to make a blackberry syrup to add to the tequila next time around.

Blackberries are another one of those historical cure-alls, especially for boils, blackheads, rheumatism, and "piles." Now what made people in olden times get those last ailments so often--did they really sit around more than we do in front of our computers, or is it just that their seat options weren't as cushy? Inquiring minds don't really want to know.

11. Hedge Bindweed

Calystegia (Convolvulus) sepium jumped out at me on a walk with my younger son and dog this afternoon. It was all alone in (what else?) a hedge (for which the Latin word is sepes) that borders a path in our wilderness-surrounded neighborhood. I lifted M. up to see this lovely pink flower, and the response I got was, "Mmm, pretty. Can we go home now?" Older son O. has been avidly searching on his own in the woods, and has an exciting find I'll share as soon as we get a good picture (camera was on the wrong setting when I sent him back into the woods to photograph it, darn it).

Part of the morning glory family.

From the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England:

Smooth, twining vine. Flowers 3", funnel-shaped, 5-lobed, pink to white, white-striped. Leaves arrowhead-shaped. Blooms June-Sept. Habitat Watersides, thickets.

Friday, August 15, 2008

10. Common Mullein

Verbascum thaspus is an interesting plant with much history in its past. Since the down on the leaves and stem burns readily when dry, it was used both as a torch in ancient times and for lamp wicks before cotton was introduced, hence the nickname, "Candlewick Plant." Its shape also suggests a tall candle, so several other nicknames for this species have some variation of light in the name, such as "Hedge Taper" and "Our Lady's Candle."

Its use as an herbal remedy is as old as many of its numerous nicknames. "Clown's Lung Wort" was used to treat coughs, nasal congestion, and consumption, as well as other complaints of the lungs. Concoctions made from various parts of the plant were said to relieve as diverse symptoms as diarrhea, hemorrhoids, colic, migraine, splinters, asthma, frost bite, bruises, toothache, cramps, convulsions, gout, possession by evil spirits, and gray hair, among other things. I actually used mullein oil (bought at Whole Foods) to treat an earache or two in my family years ago, but didn't know of this herb's reputation for healing other ailments at the time.

To read more, visit the Great Mullein page in A Modern Herbal at Botanical.com.

In addition to its illustrious history, common mullein also has an interesting life cycle. During its first year, it exists only as a leafy plant with no center stalk:
The stalk appears during the second year of the plant's growth. The leaves, as they go up the stalk, get smaller. This fact, along with the leaves' arrangement on the stalk, allows rain to be funneled down to the base of the plant. Another way mullein survives--it can self-pollinate in the absence of friendly insect visits.

9. Common Evening Primrose

One of the most pleasant things about Oenothera biennis is it's light, lemon-y scent--I want a perfume that smells that good! The plant can grow to five feet tall (this one was pushing three feet), and has alternate, slightly toothed, lance-shaped leaves. The leaves on this one had recently been nibbled on by the Japanese beetle I had to flick off before taking the photo.

8. White Campion

Unfortunately Silene latifolia is another night blooming flower--it did open somewhat when shade hit it later in the day, so I was able to identify it without risking yet more mosquito bites. I think its cousin may have been across the street, and I thought it was the same flower--Bladder Campion differs from White Campion, or "evening lychnis," as it is also called, in that Bladder Campion is open during the day, blooms on taller stems, and has smooth leaves and upper stem.

7. Creeping Wood Sorrel

Oxalis corniculata. Did anyone else grow up calling this little yellow flowering creeper with heart-shaped leaves "sour grass"? I remember chewing on the stems of freshly picked sorrel as a kid, and the taste was reminiscent of pickles. (Caveat: I do not recommend taste-testing wildflowers without a certified nature guide along, and I especially do not recommend ingesting or even tasting any wildflower that may be in an area that has been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

6. Bird's Foot Trefoil

Now there's a lovely name for a very pretty wildflower. Lotus corniculatus is part of the pea family and is a creeper found in meadows and on roadsides. I wish I could post a close up of the flower itself--it resembles a snapdragon a bit, but is simpler and smaller. Gorgeous yellow color.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

5. Daisy Fleabane

I did not know the name of this wildflower--another from the aster family. Erigeron annus can be distinguished from Common Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) because the leaves of the Daisy Fleabane do not wrap around the stem of the plant (the botanical term is "clasping"), whereas the leaves of the Common Fleabane do. The name fleabane hails from the days when the smoke from the burning of this plant was thought to keep fleas and other insects at bay. The flowers of Common Fleabane close at night, but I could not confirm (without running across the street in my pjs and getting eaten alive by repellent-resistant mosquitos) if Daisy Fleabane does so as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

4. Black-Eyed Susan

What I knew--it's the state flower of Maryland and my mother's favorite wildflower. The Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is another flower in the aster family. Aster is, incidentally, what my oldest wants to name his hypothetical pet cat. Anyone who has read my other blog knows that we recently got a puppy. A cat is not on the horizon in the foreseeable future. But persistence is the middle name of all of my children, so I'm sure I'll be hearing about Aster for years to come, until he eventually exists in the flesh, in our tiny little house with no out-of-the-way spot for a litter box. Be it ever so smelly, there's no place like home.

3. Purple Loosestrife

Yet another invader--this one is a native of Europe, Asia, Northeast Africa, and southeastern Australia. I knew it was considered an invasive species (at least here in rainy New England), but now I know where it's from originally.

Whoo! No wonder this plant (Lythrum salicaria) is taking over--it's natural predators are still overseas, and each plant can produce up to 3,000,000 seeds per year. Unfortunately, native plants such as cattails are being completely crowded out in some areas. But biological control in the form of the introduction of insects that will prey on the plant's various parts has been implemented with some success.

Still, rivers and ponds with these pretty purple flowers surrounding them are a lovely sight to behold.

2. Spotted Knapweed

I thought this was an aster of some sort, and it appears to be in the aster family, but Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) is not as nice a name as I would have given this wildflower. Evidently it is considered invasive in other parts of the U.S., and is native to eastern Europe. More invasive plants to come. . .

1. Queen Anne's Lace

Here it is, the first local plant on my list: Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). What I knew about it: it's a wildflower that's also called Wild Carrot, and it's pretty much everywhere around here.

My Newcomb's tells me that it's part of the Parsley family, and has alternate leaves and five regular parts. The purple floret in the center is a lovely surprise.

I think I remember a tiny snippet about this wildflower in Anne of Green Gables, but darned if I can find it, just flipping through the book. I do have a lovely edition of Anne with illustrations, including many of wildflowers, by Lauren Mills.

The 100 Species Challenge

I find myself with my ancient copy of Newcomb's Wildflower Guide in hand. This book was the required resource for a summer class I took at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve back in the late 1970's, which remains one of my favorite childhood memories of all time. I hope to recreate some of the magic of time spent scouring the woods for various flora, both for myself and my children.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to scsours for the 100 Species Challenge! I'm excited to get started.

Here are the rules, and a link to her original post:

The 100-Species Challenge

1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge. I will make a sidebar list of anyone who notifies me that they are participating in the Challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant's home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears. My format will be as follows: the numbered list, with plants making their first appearance on the list in bold; each plant making its first appearance will then have a photograph taken by me, where possible, a list of information I already knew about the plant, and a list of information I learned subsequent to starting this challenge, and a list of information I'd like to know. (See below for an example.) This format is not obligatory, however, and participants can adapt this portion of the challenge to their needs and desires.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts. This can be done either by tagging these posts, by ending every post on the challenge with a link to your previous post on the challenge, or by some method which surpasses my technological ability and creativity.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camillia japonica and camillia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two--"camillia" if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge.
You can make it as quick or as detailed a project as you like. I'm planning to blog a minimum of two plants per week, complete with pictures and descriptions as below, which could take me up to a year. But you can do it in whatever level of detail you like.