In another life, I would have been a botanist. In this life, I am merely a fan of wildflowers. The unfamiliar lexicon of botany makes plant descriptions read like a cross between a scientific journal and a tantalizing novel.
I have learned to identify dozens of wildflowers, primarily found on hiking/biking trails. I also find wildflowers in roadside ditches, in vacant lots, and even in my own back yard. Because I am always seeking, I notice any little speck of color or interesting leaves that don’t seem to catch the eye of other people.
As a kid, I learned that thistles had to be controlled on farmland because they were invasive. Now I know that many weeds are labeled noxious – any invasive, non-native plant that threatens crops, wildlife habitats, or other local ecosystems.
This month, I have been squeezing through the barbed wire fence separating my yard from a pasture to dig up noxious weeds so they don’t spread to our yard. Until last year, the pasture behind us was owned by an old rancher who leased the land for cattle grazing. He sold forty acres to the local school district, which has no immediate plans to build on it.
Common mullein and houndstongue are two examples of invasive plants that grow in the pasture. According to the Wisconsin Horticulture description of mullein, “Individual plants produce 200-300 seed capsules, each containing 500-800 seeds, so that 100,000‑240,000 seeds are produced per plant.” Houndstongue does not produce as many seeds as mullein (only 2,000 seeds per plant) but it is toxic to livestock and wildlife.
A couple of weeks ago while digging up houndstongue, I saw a plant with hairy leaves that I recognized from my days searching for wildflowers in Colorado. I tried unsuccessfully to identify it with a plant app so I turned to my own photo collection. I remember struggling to identify the plant when I first saw it. Someone said it was spearshaped phacelia, a member of the Boraginaceae family. It is actually Western Marbleseed, another member of the borage family, described in detail on the IllinoisWildflowers website:
Each flower has a white corolla that is ½–¾” long, a hairy green calyx with 5 slender lobes, 5 inserted stamens, and a pistil with a strongly exerted white style. The corolla is cylindrical-angular in shape, becoming slightly and gradually wider toward its tip. At the tip of the corolla, there are 5 triangular lobes that extend outward and inward, effectively closing off the opening of the corolla, except for the exerted style. These lobes are often tinted green or yellow. The outer sides of the corolla are densely canescent, except where its lobes occur; the latter are hairy throughout. The lobes of the calyx are linear-lanceolate to linear-oblong in shape. Including its lobes, the calyx is about two-thirds as long as the corolla. The pedicels of the flowers are up to ¼” long (rarely longer); they are whitish green, terete, appressed-pubescent, and covered with appressed to slightly spreading hairs. At the bases of these pedicels, there are solitary bracts up to 1″ long that resemble the leaves….
Corollas and calyxes and pistils, oh my!
I also saw something purple peeking through the tall grass and weeds. This time, the plant app correctly identified the flower as spiderwort. When the flowers opened the following week, I confirmed this ID. What a shame that this beautiful flower is hidden in the weeds. And how delightful that beauty can be found by those who actively seek it!
Why am I so enamored with wildflowers? The beauties catch my eye but it’s more than beauty that attracts me. It’s their uniqueness and diversity. It’s their resilience, the ability to thrive in less than desirable conditions. Flowers are evidence of God’s creativity.
The fields declare the glory of God; the flowers proclaim the work of his hands.
Flowers appear on the earth;Song of Songs, 2:12
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.