Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Perennial Pea Lathyrus latifolius

Lathyrus latifolius L.

June to October                                           I                                   Family: Fabaceae

perennial pea flower

Flower: The round, green flower stalks come from the leaf axils and can reach almost a foot long with four to sixteen flowers on them. The flowers have five white to dark pink petals arranged with two large petals standing up behind two small petals forming a projection with the fifth petal forming a bottom of this keel.

perennial pea side flower

Leaf: The alternate, green leaves have long winged petioles topped with a pair of leaflets. Each leaflet is a broad as the petiole wings at the base and slowly tapers to a point. There is a midvein. At the junction of the two leaflets and petiole is a forked tendril. The two ends twine around objects helping the vine to climb.perennial pea leaf

Stem: The stems are green with wide wings. They can reach 7 feet long and sprawl across the ground or climb up neighboring vegetation.

Perennial pea under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial taproot with rhizomes.

perennial pea stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant prefers sunny slopes with good soil and often grow along roadsides or other disturbed areas.

Poisonous: The seeds are poisonous. The foliage is not poisonous.

perennial pea panicle of flowers

Perennial Pea

Everlasting Pea

perennial pea plant

Perennial Pea is easy to spot along a road. There are usually numerous vines snaking across over the roadside vegetation. Brilliant pink handfuls of flowers are scattered on the vines.

Other vines may have white flowers. The two colors may be adjacent to each other but do not seem to mix. Both can put on a show.

Perennial pea white flower

Originally this unscented relative of sweet peas came from southern Europe. The plant prefers south or west facing slopes where conditions are the warmest. Good soil and adequate moisture produce the biggest vines.

The vines do have tendrils and can climb, but are not strong climbers. The vines are easily broken. They can root, if they touch the ground.

Perennial pea is planted and seeds are available. The seeds germinate easily. The plant grows quickly, blooming the first year. It’s bright colors, long blooming time and ability to climb a trellis make it a popular garden plant.

Indian Physic Gillenia stipulata

There is a stretch of road that erupts with small white flowers in early summer. The leggy plants are two feet tall but so thin and sparsely leafed out, they are not noticed until the flowers open. So many flowers open at the tops of these plants covering the hillside, they bring a smile as I realize the Indian Physic is blooming.

Gillenia stipulata Nutt.

May to July                                                  N                                 Family: Rosaceae

Indian Physic flower

Flower: Five sepals form a cup surrounding the base of the flower. Five white to pink, long, narrow petals emerge from this cup spreading out into a star shape. The petals are widely spaced. Ten stamens and five pistils are inside the cup bulging outward in a mound.

Indian physic side flower

Leaf: The leaves are widely spaced on the stems giving the plant a sparse or leggy look. Each leaf is deeply lobed into three long fingers lined with jagged teeth. These teeth can divide the lower leaves into a more lacy look. The leaf has a short half inch long, hairy petiole projecting it out from the two leaf like stipules surrounding the stem at the node. A definite midvein goes out each lobe. The upper surface is a darker green than the lower surface.

Indian physic leaf

Stem: The green to red stem is usually two feet tall but can reach four. It branches in the upper half. They have a tough, smooth feel but can have short hairs mostly toward the leaf nodes.

Indian physic under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial rhizome.

Indian physic stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes wooded hillsides.

Midwestern Indian Physic

American Ipecac

Indian physic plant

Indian Physic forms colonies. A group of colonies can cover a hillside. All the plants begin to flower at the same time so the small flowers are noticed because of their number.

Although Indian Physic is a member of the rose family, the flowers don’t look much like a rose. The petals are long and narrow, spreading out so they look widely separated. In the calyx cup is where the rose look is seen as there is a mass of stamens.

The plant itself looks leggy. The stems are thin but tough with the leaves at long intervals. Thin branches jut off in the upper half of the plant. The flowers top long, thin stems.

At first glance the leaves look like they have five parts. The bottom two aren’t part of the leaf but surround the stem and base of the petiole. The leaf has three parts.

The blooming period is given as three months but most of the flowers appear in June and are gone by the end of June. All of the flowers I’ve seen have been white. There is pink down at the edge of the calyx cup but it doesn’t extend into the petal.

Indians used the dried root as a laxative and emetic. It has been replaced by a South American ipecac plant. When ingested, this causes a sudden, severe gagging.

Smooth Wild Petunia Ruellia strepens

I like flower gardens but don’t have time to plant one. That makes finding lovely wildflowers even more special. Petunias are such lovely flowers. Surprisingly, Ozark wild petunias only look like garden ones. The garden varieties are in the same family as potatoes, peppers and tomatoes.

Ruellia strepens L.

May to October                                            N                                 Family: Acanthaceae

wild petunia flower

Flower: Up to three lavender flowers appear at the leaf nodes and tips of branches. Each flower is two inches long, shaped like a funnel with the end broken into five rounded lobes flaring out an inch and a half. The base of the flower is surrounded by a green calyx with five points and covered with short hairs.

wild petunia side flower

Leaf: The opposite, green leaves have small leaf like bracts at their nodes. The leaves have no to short petioles. Each leaf is up to 6 inches long flaring out quickly then tapering slowly to a point. The midvein is prominent with numerous strong side veins. Minute hairs are along the underside of the veins and around the leaf edges.

wild petunia leaf

Stem: The green stem starts out unbranched but can branch on older plants. The stem has minute rows of hairs but appears hairless from a distance. It has rounded ridges.

wild petunia under leaf

Root: Perennial

wild petunia stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes shade and grows along creeks, in open woods and along roads.

Smooth Wild Petunia

Smooth Ruellia, Limestone Ruellia

wild petunia plant

Smooth Wild Petunia looks like a garden variety petunia but isn’t one. It varies in color from a ruby red to lavender to a rare white. Only a couple of flowers open each day and are easily missed when they are lower down on the plant. The flower only last a day.

The Smooth Wild Petunia plant stands upright and can reach three feet but is usually half that. The leaves are large and hide the flowers. The base of each leaf is hidden under a pair of bracts shaped like the leaves but much smaller. The hairs on the plant are so minute that the plant looks hairless.

There are three species of wild petunia. Although all three are listed as beginning to bloom in May, this one seems to be a week or so ahead of the others. All have similar flowers. One plant is conspicuously hairy. The other two are not. This one has the flowers without stalks from the leaf nodes. The other one has flower stalks and smaller leaves.

I find this plant in various places, often along the roads. It is an easy plant to overlook. The flowers are a lovely shade of lavender and the first thing noticed, but just a glimpse requiring a second more careful look to really find the flower.

Common Mallow Malva neglecta

At first Common Mallow plants were few in number. The flowers are pretty. It was in out of the way places. That has changed. Ten years later this plant is taking over the chicken yard, expanding into the goat barn lot and covering a wide swath of ground in front of these places. It tried to take over my garden but diligent weeding has reduced it to occasional.

The flowers are still pretty. I still enjoy seeing them. The seed pods are interesting. The plants are ruthlessly mowed.

Malva neglecta Wallr.

April to October                                           I                                   Family: Malvaceae

common mallow flower

Flower: Hairy flower stalks grow from the leaf nodes and end in one to three flowers. Each flower has five hairy, pointed sepals. There are five white to light pink to lavender petals with dark pink veins. The flowers have an open bell shape.

Common Mallow side flower

Leaf: The alternate, green leaves have long, hairy petioles. Each leaf has several veins radiating out from the petiole into the five to seven shallow lobes of the leaf. The leaf appears almost circular but has two definite sides that overlap. The edges are toothed. The teeth and lobes give the leaf a scalloped look. The edges can have jagged waves.

Common Mallow leaf

Stem: Several stems come from the root. The green stems branch. They are hairy.

Common Mallow under leaf

Root: The taproot is fleshy, can fork or have fleshy side roots. It can be annual or perennial.

Common Mallow stem

Fruit: The seeds are arranged in a single circle inside a flattened round seed pod that resembles a wheel of cheese.

Common Mallow fruit

Habitat: This plant grows almost anywhere. It seems to prefer disturbed sunny areas.

Edibility: The leaves, young stems and flowers are edible raw or cooked. The seeds are edible but their small size makes gathering them tedious.

Common Mallow

Cheeses, Cheeseweed

Common Mallow plant

Common Mallow came from Europe. It spreads rapidly from seed. The plant grows, flowers and sets seed quickly. The seeds can sprout at any time of the year.

The Malvaceae family is the mallow family giving this plant its common name. The name referring to cheese is from the shape of the seed pod. It looks like a wheel of cheese. Cheese weed is from its growth habits.

The leaves and flowers resemble those of the garden variety of geranium. The plant can be a foot tall but sprawls across the ground. Its stems can be two feet long.

Common Mallow is considered edible. The leaves produce a mucilage so adding a few to soup can thicken the soup. As with the mucilage from okra, not everyone likes the texture. The young leaves, sprouts and flowers can be added to salad or cooked as greens.

An emerging sprout puts down a taproot. This can grow to a foot long. It is thick and difficult to pull out. The root can be eaten.

This plant is often considered a weed. It spreads so rapidly and spreads out to cover an area, the ground is covered with it. Once established, it is difficult to eradicate. Mowing makes it into a low ground cover still blooming and setting seed.

The plant is an alternate host for hollyhock rust.

Carolina Crane’s Bill Geranium carolinianum

The geranium family or Geraniaceae has three members in Dent County. The most noticeable is the wild geranium, Geranium maculatum, with its large deep pink flowers. This bushier, weedier member, Carolina Crane’s Bill, is more interesting after setting its fruit. Some crane type birds do put their beaks straight up to blend into the foliage behind them when danger threatens. The seed pods mimic this posture.

Geranium carolinianum L.

May to July                                                  N                                 Family: Geraniaceae

crane's bill flower

Flower: Flower stalks come out of the leaf axils. Each stalk ends with two light pink to lavender, notched flowers with three veins showing in each of the five petals. Five pointed, hairy, green sepals show between the five petals.

Crane's Bill leaf

Leaf: Some leaves are basal. The others are opposite on the stems. Each green leaf has a long hairy petiole. Five big veins go out five main lobes which divide into more lobes dividing into more lobes. The leaves can be covered with very short hairs.

Crane's Bill under leaf

Stem:The stems branch giving the up to two foot tall plant a bushy appearance. The stems are smooth, green to red and covered with short hairs.

Crane's bill stem

Root: There is an annual taproot.

Crane's Bill fruit

Fruit: The seed pod has a globular base with a long stalk pointing up from the base. These turn dark brown when ripe.

Habitat: This plant grows in many areas as glades, bluffs, prairies, stream banks, disturbed areas and woods. It prefers somewhat open areas.

Carolina Crane’s Bill

Crane's Bill plant

Carolina Crane’s Bill is easily identified by its distinctive leaves when it is small. Later the flowers look like miniature garden geraniums. Finally the seed pods looking like a crane pointing its bill skyward is unmistakable.

This is a tough plant. It can be found growing in gravel driveways. It seems to prefer these hard places as few other plants can grow there to offer competition.

Carolina Crane’s Bill stays smaller in packed ground. In better areas the plant spreads out and up for a couple of feet. Every leaf node sports flowers. Once the seed pods turn brown, the plant is decorated by them.

Since the plant is an annual, it produces lots of weeds. It grows quickly, blooms and sets more seeds. This and its tendency to grow in difficult places gets the plant listed as a weed.

The leaves are not poisonous and can be eaten. They are rated as very bitter. The short hairs would give them a fuzzy feel.

Cleavers Bedstraw Galium aparine

Galium aparine L.

April to July                                                 N                                 Family: Rubiaceae

Bedstraw flower

Flower: Tiny eighth of an inch across white, four-petaled flowers sit in the leaf nodes on short stalks. The petals come out of a green cup of sepals and fold open. The ends of the petals are pointed. One to several flowers form whorls around the leaf nodes starting about half way out the stem.

bedstraw leaf

Leaf: Whorls of six leaves surround the stems at intervals. The leaves lie flat, are long and narrow, widest just before rounding into a sharp point. Each leaf has a midvein. The midvein and leaf edges are lined with stiff barbs.

bedstraw under leaf

Stem: Several green, ridged, stiff stems come from a common root. The base of the stems is very thin. The rest of the stem is about a quarter inch thick, branching, lined with hooked barb hairs so the plant forms a dense mat. The barbs can cling to other objects and plants letting them climb upward three to four feet.

bedstraw stem

Root: The root is an annual fibrous one.

bedstraw fruit

Fruit: Usually two joined seed capsules form from each flower. The capsules are ovate and covered with stiff barbs long enough to double the apparent size of the capsule.

Habitat: This plant likes sunny, disturbed areas but will grow readily in ravines, pastures, gardens and edges of woods.

Cleavers

Annual Bedstraw, Goose Grass

bedstraw plant

Every stem, leaf and fruit of Cleavers or Bedstraw is covered with short, stiff, curved barbs. These join the various stems together into mats. They attach to objects and plants so the stems can grow up three to four feet. They attach to anything passing by holding on tenaciously, resisting al attempts to dislodge them, stems snapping to leave portions still attached.

The fruits caught in hair are soon wrapped in the hair. Removal with the least pain is pulling one hair out at a time until the fruit is free. As any given Cleavers stem is lined with double fruits, numerous fruits must be removed in this time consuming way but impatient tugs threaten to pull clumps of hair out with the fruits.

Each root system has numerous stems growing from it. The stems can branch but those I’ve seen do so rarely. The single stems joined together by their barbs bury nearby plants.

The name of bedstraw refers to pioneers using the plentiful plant as mattress stuffing.

There are several kinds of Galium plants. All have similar flowers although the size differs. The easiest way to recognize Cleavers is from the leaves. These are usually in whorls of six. Each leaf is long, round tipped and narrow. The other six leaf whorled Galium is a small plant about eight inches tall.

Cleavers or Bedstraw grows readily in disturbed areas such as along lawn edges and gardens. The best time to pull it out of these areas is before to just as it comes into bloom. The fruits form quickly and are a nuisance later.

Robin’s Plantain Erigeron pulchellus

Erigeron pulchellus Michx.

April to June                                                 N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Astereae

 Robin's Plantain flower

Flower: The flower is a center of yellow tube flowers surrounded by numerous white to lavender ray flowers. The entire inflorescence is close to two inches across. There are up to five on half to one inch stalks at the tip of the stem. There is a cup of green, hairy bracts under each inflorescence.

Robin's Plantain side flower

Leaf: The basal leaves are green, egg-shaped, with short petioles. They are covered with short hairs. There is a single midvein. The few stem leaves are sessile, covered with long hairs and narrower than the basal leaves.

Robin's Plantain leaf

Stem: A single, hairy, green stem can reach two feet tall. The hairs are long and spreading.

Robin's Plantain under leaf

Root: There is a perennial fibrous root system with rhizomes.

Robin's Plantain stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant forms small colonies in open woods on hillsides, pastures, ledges and bluffs.

Robin’s Plantain

Robin's Plantain plant

Although Robin’s Plantain is called a plantain, it isn’t. this name probably refers to the shape of the basal leaves which resemble those of broad-leaved plantain. Instead Robin’s Plantain is a fleabane and member of the aster family.

The relationship to the aster family is obvious with a close look at the flower. It is a typical aster type with densely packed tube flowers in the center and ray flowers around the disk. The tube flowers open in rings from the outside toward the inside. They are a yellow tube with a pistil sticking out. The stamens are fused to the pistil.

Fleabanes tend to have thinner ray flowers than other asters. Each inflorescence has a double or triple row of ray flowers. This gives a lacy look to the inflorescence.

There are several fleabanes in Dent County. Most are much smaller. Philadelphia fleabane is similar. The main ways to identify Robin’s Plantain are the long hairs on the stem, dense hair covering on the leaves and basal leaves. This plant tends to form colonies because of the rhizomes.

The ray flowers are mostly white. They can be lavender or even lavender at the base and white on the ends. Since several other white flowers bloom at the same time, Robin’s Plantain can get overlooked.

I find the plants on a hillside in woods about twenty-five feet from a pasture. A single plant bloomed the first year. There is now a small colony spreading out from the base of the oak tree where the first one grew.

Wild Hyacinth Camassia scilloides

Camassia scilloides Cory

April to May                                                 N                                 Family: Liliaceae

 wild hyacinth flower

Flower: Light blue to white, six petaled flowers on inch long stalks surround the stem. The cluster can include as many as 80 flowers. Six stamens stick out from around the green ovary bulge in the center of the flower. The flowers at the bottom of the cluster open first followed by those further up as new buds form on the tip of the stem.

wild hyacinth side flower

Leaf: The leaves are all basal and grass like. They are green, slightly darker on the under side, with parallel veins. The leaves have no hairs.

wild hyacinth leaf

Stem: A single smooth green flower stalk with no leaves on it can reach two feet but is usually 12” to 18”.

wild hyacinth stem

Root: The perennial root is a bulb.

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes light shade and moist, rich soil. It favors ravines, edges of woods and roadside ditches.

Wild Hyacinth

wild hyacinth plant

Wild Hyacinth flower clusters are looser and the flower petals thinner than the garden varieties. They only come in light blue to white. The plants still put on a display.

The six petals are referred to as tepals. This is because three are petals. The other three are sepals. They look the same so the flower appears to have six petals.

The plants tend to grow in groups. They can line the roadside for twenty feet from the edge of the ditch to four feet up. Then there are none.

On the hillside in the edge of the woods Wild Hyacinth grows near seeps or where water flows after a rain. These plants do like it moist but not wet. They will grow in full sun but seem to prefer partial light shade.

Although the Indians ate the bulbs, the plant is similar to a poisonous calla. The bulbs are small and not really worth the effort even with positive identification.

Wild Hyacinth is one of the spring ephemerals. It blooms for only a month, sets seed and disappears.

 

Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum

A green blush is showing on the trees meaning leaves are starting to burst from their buds. This puts pressure on the spring ephemeral wildflowers to get done with blooming and setting seed before shade covers the hillsides under the trees.

A large array of wildflowers is now bursting into bloom such as Trillium, three-lobed violets, rue anemone, spurge, shooting star and wild geranium.

Geranium maculatum L.

April to June                                                                                     Family: Geraniaceae

wild geranium flower

Flower: Clusters of pink to lavender flowers are on long, hairy stems. Each flower has a short, hairy stem, about an inch long. Five, hairy, pointed sepals spread out under the five petals. The petals spread wide and are thin with darker veins making delicate netting. Ten stamens with bar-shaped anthers surround a pistil with a split end.

wild geranium side flower

Leaf: Most leaves are basal on long, hairy petioles. Some are opposite on the stems. The leaves are deeply lobed with five lobes and palmate veins. each lobe has a rounded to squared off end with several lobes, the center one being longer than the others. The leaves have short hairs especially along the veins, upper and lower surfaces. The underside is paler green than the upper surface.

wild geranium leaf

Stem: Several stems grow up and can reach two feet tall. The stems are round, green or reddish in the sun and hairy with quarter inch long hairs drooping down.

wild geranium under leaf

Root: The roots are strong, perennial rhizomes.

wild geranium stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant prefers open woods and light shade.

 

Wild Geranium

Spotted Crane’s Bill

wild geranium plant

Wild Geranium is easy to spot once the flowers start opening. They are big, over an inch across and pink. I usually find them in the edges of the woods along my pastures.

The leaves start out more compact but still have the five lobes. As the plant gets older, the leaves stretch out into their characteristic shape. They do look like big crane feet, but that is not where the name comes from.

Spotted Crane’s Bill is from some plants with spotted leaves although I’ve never seen any spotted leaves. The crane’s bill part I have seen. This refers to the seed pods which have a round upper part containing the seeds and a long beak sticking out.

Wild Geranium plants are spread out because most of the leaves are basal, growing directly up from the rhizomes. There can be more than one branching flowering stem. The flowers disappear in a month or so and the plants hang on for another month or two then vanish until the next spring making this one of the spring ephemerals.

Jacob’s Ladder Polemonium reptans

The spring ephemerals including Jacob’s Ladder are up and starting to bloom all over the Ozarks. They try to grow, bloom and seed before the trees leaf out blocking the sunlight from the forest floor.

Each plant has a storage root with the food needed to bloom. It is restocked while the seeds form.

Once the seeds are ripe and disbursed, the plant withers and vanishes. Only the root remains alive and waiting for the next spring rush.

Polemonium reptans L.

April to June                                                 N                                 Family: Polemoniaceae

Jacob's Ladder flower

Flower: A thin hairy stalk ends in an olive green calyx of five pointed sepals around the base of five, light blue, thin petals forming a flaring bell-shaped flower an inch across. A long white pistil extends outmost of the length of the petals and has a style split into three parts. Five stamens of different lengths surround the pistil. Each flower cluster tends to be wider than long with five to seventeen flowers.

Jacob's Ladder side flower

Leaf: Alternate compound leaves have an end leaflet and three to nine pairs of opposite leaflets. Each leaflet has a prominent midvein. The central petiole has scattered hairs on it and bulges to partially wrap the stem.

Jacob's Ladder leaf

Stem: A single stem grows up to 18 inches tall. The sparsely hairy stems are green but turn reddish especially in the sun. The stem branches putting out several flowering stems.

Jacob's Ladder under leaf

Root: The root is a woody perennial one.

Jacob's Ladder stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes moist shady areas such as ravines and edges of low woods of deciduous trees.

Jacob’s Ladder

Greek Valerian

Jacob's Ladder plant

Jacob’s Ladder looks like clusters of small blue bells tucked under still bare trees in the early spring. The name comes from the leaves which look like an old makeshift ladder with a single central pole and crossbar rungs. This is another of the spring ephemerals that blooms, sets seed and goes dormant by early summer.

The pale blue flowers seem to appear often in a double row. They can point up or down yet seem to point out straight like a bank of ballpark lights.

The seed pods are light green balls and can seem to promise another round of flowers. The next round of flowers will be the next spring when some of these seeds may be plants themselves.

Smooth Rock Cress Boechera laevigata

Boechera laevigata Al-Shehbaz

April to June                                                 N                                 Family: Brassicaceae

smooth rock cress flowers

Flower: Flowers form a loose cluster on the stem tip with new flowers forming as the stem gets longer. The cluster hangs at an angle downward from the drooping end of the stem. Each flower is on a long stalk and has four white petals barely longer than the sepal cup surrounding them. The pistil starts elongating out through the petals as soon as the flower is fertilized.

smooth rock cress leaf

Leaf: The first year leaves are in a low growing rosette. They are long and narrow with a short petiole. They are gone by the time the stalk appears. Alternate stem leaves are at wide intervals. Each sessile leaf is long and narrow with a midvein. The end of the leaf has two long lobes surrounding the stem. Many leaves have teeth often toward the base but the entire edge can have teeth. The leaves are smooth with no hairs.

Smooth rock cress under leaf

Stem: The stem appears the second year. It can reach three feet tall and often droops over at the top. It is green, round and smooth with no hairs. It can turn reddish in full sun.

smooth rock cress stem

Root: The root is a biennial taproot.

smooth rock cress fruit

Fruit: The seed pod is long and curves out then hangs down. It is on a long stalk and has no hairs. Cut across the pod is round. Seeds form a single line inside the pod.

Habitat: This plant likes light shade preferring low to hilly deciduous woods growing in moister places.

Smooth Rock Cress

smooth rock cress plant

There are lots of cresses and rock cresses. Smooth Rock Cress is noticeable because of the tall drooping stem of flowers. It favors moister wooded areas with a bit of sun in the spring. I find it along the road near the river in the floodplain and on the hills on the uphill side of trees tucked near the tree.

The flower cluster looks like a falling pile of light green cups from the side. The flower petals are barely visible until you look at a flower head on. Then the four white petals are obvious.

Because there are many cresses, there are some characteristics setting Smooth Rock Cress apart. The plants are completely hairless giving them that smooth look. The seed pods have a single row of seeds visible as bulges along them, are round in cross section and, although they start out pointing up, spread out then droop down as much as three and a half inches. The leaves on the flowering stem are different too with their two long lobes, one on each side of the stem seeming, at times, to try to wrap themselves around the stem.

The plant is a biennial but the rosette of leaves from the first year goes unnoticed. It is the flowering stalk with its drooping spray of flowers that is seen by those who take the time to look.

Toothwort Cardamine concatenata

The spring ephemeral wildflowers are starting to bloom here in the Ozarks. This includes toothwort, rue anemone, false rue anemone and Johnny Jump Ups. The first blue violets and wood violets are blooming too.

Cardamine concatenata O. Schwarz

March to May                                              N                                 Family: Brassicaceae

toothwort flowers

Flower: The stem tip puts out many flower buds. Each flower is on a stalk and has a cup of green sepals with pink tips. The flower stays in a tube to the top of the sepals then the four white to pink petals flare open. Five or six stamens surrounding a pistil stick out of the central tube.

toothwort flower

Leaf: The leaves form a single whorl with three leaves going off the stem. Each leaf is split into three long narrow lobes. The two outside lobes may split into two lobes and the central lobe may split into three lobes. Each lobe is toothed at intervals.

toothwort leaf

Stem: Single unbranched stems can grow a little over a foot tall. The stems are covered with short hairs.

toothwort stem

Root: The perennial root is a series of tuberous swellings connected by thinner roots forming a rhizome.

toothwort fruit

Fruit: The seed pod is almost two inches long but barely an eighth of an inch in diameter. The seeds are lined up in the pods.

Habitat: This plant likes open woods but likes it moist. It is commonly found in bottomland forests and ravines.

Edibility: The tuberous parts of the rhizomes can be eaten in salads or dried and ground. It is spicy.

Cut-Leaved Toothwort

toothwort plant

Toothwort is one of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom. The plants form little green forests on the forest floor The green turns to pink as the flowers open.

At one time many of the plants didn’t make it to blooming as they became potherbs. The roots were used as a horseradish substitute and toothache remedy.

Although the leaves have teeth, the name toothwort did not refer to these teeth. There are tooth-like projections on the rhizomes and these gave the plant its common name.

In early spring places in the woods and ravines seem to be covered with toothwort. The sunny forest floor turns pink when the plants bloom. The trees leaf out as the plants are finishing making seeds. A short time later the plants have vanished even though summer has barely begun.

The plant has scattered seeds to start new plants and replaced the starch in its roots and rhizomes so it can bloom in the next spring. So the plant goes dormant avoiding heat and drought and being in deep shade under summer trees full of leaves.

 

Cardamine hirsuta Hoary Bitter Cress

Brassicaceae or the mustard family has quite a few cresses in it. These cresses are similar in many respects and can be difficult to tell apart.

Several are edible. Water Cress, Yellow Rocket and Shepard’s Purse are among these. From the name, this is not one to try. It is blooming now.

Cardamine hirsuta L.

 March to April                                             I                                   Family: Brassicaceae

hoary bitter cress flower

hoary bitter cress side flower

Flower: A cluster of white, four petaled flowers tips the stalk. Each flower has a stalk the length of the flower. Four green sepals half the length of the petals surround and cup the flower. Each sepal is tipped with hairs. The four petals have a long, narrow base part that flares out into a rounded top. Four stamens surround a flat-topped style. The pistil starts elongating through the middle of the flower as soon as it is pollinated and before the petals drop.

hoary bitter cress leaf

Leaf: Leaves are alternate and compound with several pairs of round, sparsely hairy leaflets and a terminal round leaflet. The leaflets may have large rounded teeth tipped with a stiff hair or have smooth edges. The petiole is reddish toward the base, hairy and grooved on the top. Most form a rosette at the base of the flowering stalk. The few leaves on the flowering stalk have long, narrow leaflets.

hoary bitter cress under leaf

Stem: The stems are ridged, green to dark green, unbranched and usually hairless. They are erect but may have jogs in them at leaf nodes.

hoary bitter cress stem

Root: Annual

hoary bitter cress fruit

Fruit: The seed capsule is up to an inch long and slender. It has a series of bulges the entire length, each one indicating a seed.

Habitat: The plant likes moist disturbed ground such as lawns, river and stream banks.

Hoary Bitter Cress

hoary bitter cress plant

Hoary Bitter Cress seems to be the first of the cresses to bloom in the spring. Many of the cresses can be used as wild greens including this one. As the name implies, this one is bitter to the taste and better mixed into a batch of potherbs.

The plant can survive frost into the teens. Even the flowers seem to withstand such a frost.

Typical of weeds, Hoary Bitter Cress grows quickly and blooms. The first flower stalks can be short, barely three inches tall. The flowers are fewer in number than on later, taller – up to a foot – stalks.

The flowers are the four-petaled ones of the mustard family. They are quickly pollinated. The seed pod grows up between the petals. All of the pods point upward. When the seeds ripen, the pod splits in half lengthwise to release them. The seeds don’t seem to travel far so the plants occur in clumps.

I found the plants in several places. Lawn grasses surround some. Other plants were in drier habitat on a hillside but still in a sunny, grassy location. The lushest plants grew in a river floodplain.

Starry Campion Silene stellata

Good news for those of us who try to look up the wildflowers we see. My favorite identification site is back up at http://www.missouriplants.com. This site has good pictures and descriptions of around 1000 Missouri wildflowers and plants. All you need to know is the color and leaf arrangement to look through the gallery and identify your wildflower.

Silene stellata W.T. Aiton

June to September                                      N                                 Family: Caryophyllaceae

Starry Campion flower

Flower: The open white flower has a swollen calyx surrounded by five green sepals behind it. The five petals are narrow where they join it then flare out into deeply fringed fans. The stamens and pistil are on a green bulge of ovary in the center. Open groups or panicles of flowers are on long petioles from several slender flower stalks branching off the end of the main stem.

Starry Campion side flower

Starry Campion leaf

Leaf: The stem leaves are in whorls of four sessile leaves. The leaves are triangular with the bases meeting around the stem then tapering to a sharp point. There is a prominent midvein.

Starry Campion under leaf

Stem: The unbranched stem is green and hairy. The stem forms a plum colored knob on top of each leaf node. Several flower stalks go off near the top of the stem. It can reach over three feet tall but often arches over.

Starry Campion stem

Root: The perennial root is thick and branched.

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes light shade and moist soil as is found at the edges of woods, along steams, ravines and roadside ditches.

Starry Campion

Starry Campion plant

Starry Campion is easy to overlook when it struggles through surrounding vegetation. The arching flower stalks with their white flowers is what is seen first.

In more open and favored places the growing stalk raises curiosity. It is stout and grows straight up three to four feet. The whorls of four leaves surround the stem at intervals. On top of each whorl is a swollen reddish knob making the whole appear as though constructed in pieces.

The flowers are easy to identify because of the five white fringed fans held stiffly out from a light green urn as long as the petals. The flowers don’t open at the same time but overlap enough to put on a display. They open late in the day to attract moths for pollination and close in a day or two unless the weather is hot and closes them sooner.

New stalks and flowers are produced over the summer as long as the plant remains in the shade and gets sufficient moisture. In the wild the stems are gradually buried by slender vines twining their way up. By the end of summer only the flower stalks and flowers still stick out to show where the plant is growing.

Like other flowers in the Pink family, Starry Campion is easy to grow, slow to become established but puts on a large show in a few years. Each taproot can put out several stems so the effect is massed in a clump.

Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria

Dianthus armeria L.

May to October                                            I                                   Family: Caryophyllaceae

Deptford Pink flower

Flower: Each flower stalk ends in a single vividly pink  half inch across flower. Each flower appears to be set into a brushy mix of long, narrow, pointed bracts and sepals. The five petals are pink with white spots with a reddish pink line forming a pentagon half way out. The petals are lobed on the ends. Ten stamens and two pistils are in the center tube of the flower.

Deptford Pink flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves have a common sheathe surrounding the stem at the leaf node. They are long and narrow curving down to a blunt point. They have smooth edges and are covered with short hairs. The basal leaves are wider with more rounded points and longer hairs.

Deptford Pink leaf

Deptford Pink basal leaves

Stem: The unbranched stem can reach three feet. There are short hairs at each leaf node. Flower stalks arise in the leaf nodes often branching. The stem is green, round and stiff.

Deptford Pink stem

Root: The annual or biennial root is a slender taproot.

Fruit: The fruit is a half inch long cylindrical pod pointed on both ends.

Deptford Pink seed pods

Habitat: This plant prefers drier disturbed ground like roadsides but sunny locations like edges of woods, pastures and fence lines are used too.

Deptford Pink

Deptford Pink plant

Deptford Pink got its name from the locality it was found in: Deptford, England. The pink part is because it is a member of the pink family many members of which are popular garden flowers. Carnations are pinks.

The plant has been in the New World since colonial times. There is doubt that gardeners brought it over because the flowers are much smaller than other pinks. The seeds may have been mixed in with crop seeds. However it arrived, Deptford Pinks are well established.

Deptford Pink flowers are about half an inch across. The bright pink petals are spread out flat giving maximum visibility. The plants have numerous flower stalks with many flowers ranging from forming buds to open flowers to closed flowers forming seeds.

Disturbed ground such as along roadsides is preferred by Deptford Pinks. The stems and leaves are slender and easily overwhelmed by other more robust plants. Occasional mowing encourages the plants as they will put up new stems and continue blooming.

 

Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica

Gardeners plant lots of different plants from all over the world. Some are for food. Others are for their beauty or fragrances. Some of these discover the New World. Japanese Honeysuckle is one of these.

Lonicera japonica Thunb. ex Murray

April to October                               I                                               Family: Caprifoliaceae

Japanese honeysuckle flower

Flower: Flowers sit on a pair of green, pointed, spreading, hairy calyxes in leaf nodes. The flower is a tube for about an inch. Short hairs cover the outside of the tube. The tube then splits into two lobes. The upper lobe has two grooves ending finally diving the lip into three lobes. The lower lip is single but possibly grooved or split at the end into two. These lips add about another inch to the flower. The five stamens and pistil stick out of the flower.

Japanese honeysuckle side flower

Leaf: Opposite oval leaves are sessile and spaced along the younger vines. They have a strong midvein with pairs of side veins easily seen on the underside of the leaf. The leaf is dark green and shiny on top, lighter green on the under side. Short hairs are found along the veins.

Japanese honeysuckle leaf

Stem: Young stems are reddish and covered with hairs. Older stems have shredding woody bark. The stems are vines reaching 15 feet or more and twining about objects they encounter including other stems.

Japanese honeysuckle under leaf

Root: Fibrous perennial roots put out rhizomes. Stems root at leaf nodes if they touch the ground.

Japanese honeysuckle stem

Fruit: The seeds are in dark purple berries most commonly seen in fall.

Japanese honeysuckle fruit

Habitat: This plant grows almost anywhere but prefers drier areas especially fence lines or edges of woods.

Japanese Honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle plant

When Japanese Honeysuckle starts blooming in the spring, the scent hangs heavy on the air for ten feet or more from the vines. It is a sweet odor clinging like perfume, indeed is used in perfume.

This was one of the reasons this vine was planted. The flowers are a brilliant white against the dark green foliage making it a pretty plant. Other reasons were it’s fast growth, lack of soil fussiness and long blooming period.

The plants bloom into the fall even through light frosts. The late flowers don’t produce berries as they freeze. They do still spread their perfume.

Numerous insects visit the flowers. There is a sweet drop of nectar in each flower which can be tasted safely. Birds eat the berries and spread the seeds.

The vigorous vines twine around anything they encounter tightly enough to strangle other plants. They layer over themselves smothering other plants and fences. Rhizomes start colonies of plants. Stems root at any leaf nodes that touch the ground.

The vines left the gardens behind and moved into the wild. They took their aggressiveness with them. They are now considered an exotic invasive species.

Most vines in the Ozarks are deciduous dropping their leaves in the fall and going dormant for the winter. Japanese Honeysuckle is not deciduous keeping its leaves as far into the winter as it can dropping them only if they freeze solid. This means the vines start growing as soon as the weather warms in the spring long before other vines have leafed out giving this invader a distinct advantage.

Check out the sample pages for Exploring the Ozark Hills under My Books. The book has 84 essays and lots of photographs.

Tall Bellflower Campanula americana

Tall bellflower is an eagerly awaited wildflower. The pages are not really going so slowly. I have been trying to identify some of the many flowers stashed in my Unknown folder. There are a lot of goldenrods. I still have pictures of at least four more to verify identification of.

Campanula americana L.

July to September                                       N                                 Family: Campanulaceae

tall bellflower flower

Flower: The top of the stem is a column of blue flowers with white centers. The calyx or cup behind the flower is made of green bracts with long tips curved outward. The flower has five pointed petals with tapered curled tips. They are around a ridged mounded disk ending with a long blue pistil sticking out. The stamens are like curled yellow ribbons around the base of the pistil.

tall bellflower side flower

Leaf: The green leaves are long and broad in the middle tapering at both ends. The stem end has a short petiole winged with leaf tissue. The leaf tip is a long point. Short hairs follow the midvein and the leaf edges, scattered elsewhere. The edges are toothed. The leaves and petioles get smaller as they get higher on the stem.tall bellflower leaf

tall bellflower under leaf

Stem: Single unbranched stems grow up to six feet tall. They are strongly ridges often with hairs on the ridges. The stems are rigid and try to grow straight but will grow at an angle or curved.

tall bellflower stem

Root: The root is an annual or biennial taproot.

Fruit: The calyx bracts get twice as long and turn brown around the developing seeds. They are in small clusters looking like ridged brown urns. They have holes open in them from which the seeds are scattered.

tall bellflower seed capsules

Habitat: This plant prefers growing in light shade as along the edges of woods and along roads.

Tall Bellflower

American Bellflower

tall bellflower plant

The easiest place to find Tall Bellflower is along a shady stretch of road especially if a ravine is close. They are easy to spot as the stems tower above most of the other plants early in their blooming time although they will get crowded out later on. The flowers are unmistakable.

Clusters of blue to purple flowers hang out over the leaves. New buds form higher on the stem even as others bloom so the plants keep blooming for months. The white centers are like bull’s-eyes pulling attention to the long pistils sticking nearly an inch out of the flowers.

Nectar around the base of the pistil attracts insects to pollinate the flowers. The flowers are sturdy enough for small bumblebees to land and hang on.

Tall Bellflower is an annual or a biennial. It depends on when the seeds germinate. Those germinating in the early spring will bloom that season. Those germinating late in the season will overwinter and bloom the following year.

The plants are easy to start from seed and grow easily. They are gaining in popularity for native gardens but make a lovely backdrop for other shorter plants. Once established, tall bellflower will self seed.

Deer will eat tall bellflower nipping off the stems. The plant puts out more flowers on the stem left growing. Even such short plants are easy to spot and identify as no other wildflower looks like this one.

In rich soil the plants can grow fairly close together offering each other support on windy days. This also masses the blooming columns making them even more noticeable and impressive.

If botany is your forte, check out How the Syrian Milkweed Got Its Name and The Floral Biology of Aristolochia. If nature essays and enjoyable reading, check out Exploring the Ozark Hills.

 

Bluebells Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica Pers. ex Link

March to June                                                                                  Family: Boraginaceae

Bluebells

Flower: Flowers are in clusters at the ends of flower stalks. Each flower base is set into a green cup with five pointed lobes. The flower is a long tube that flares into a bell. The tube is about twice as long as the bell. The bell’s rim has small notches as though beginning five petals. The buds are pink and turn blue as the flowers open. Some plants retain the pink flowers or can have white ones.

bluebells flower

bluebells leaf

Leaf: Basal leaves appear first. They look like loose cabbage leaves and can be pinkish in color. Each leaf is broadly oval with a single midvein. The edges are smooth often with a small notch at the leaf tip. The leaves are not hairy. The stem leaves are alternate with petioles. The petioles and leaves get smaller further up the stem.

bluebells leaf bottom

Stem: Smooth unbranched stems grow up to two feet tall but often arch so appearing shorter. Each rootstock may have several stems. The tips put out several flower stalks.

bluebells stem

Root: The perennial root is stout, woody and can have rhizomes.

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes shady moist areas such as along rivers, ravines and bottomland forests.

Bluebells

Virginia Cowslip

bluebells plant

Finding one Virginia Bluebell means finding several of them. The plants form colonies and are easy to spot in bloom as the blue, although it appears pastel as a single flower, is vivid when numerous flowers are in a small area.

Virginia Bluebells are a lovely wildflower and easy to grow in a shade garden. They do insist on being in the shade most of the time, having plenty of moisture and rich dirt. The plants go dormant shortly after setting seed in mid summer.

The leaves are attractive when they first come up as they are large and dark pink. They gradually turn green. They appear soft and feel smooth.

The flower buds are pink then lavender but open as blue flowers. Each cluster has a bouquet of flowers that often point downwards. Single flowers point more up.

pink bluebells

The pink or white form can be a single plant in a colony of blue flowered plants.

Fireweed Erechtites hieracifolius

Erechtites hieracifolius Raf.

July to November                                        N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Senecioneae

fireweed flower

Flower: The tube flowers sitting on a central disk are encased by long bracts. These bracts are green, often bulge over the central disk and look like a wall slightly twisted from bottom to top. The top of the bracts flares slightly as the tube flowers open. Their petals are white to light pink but barely stick out over the bracts. The styles extend themselves over the bracts.

fireweed leaf

Leaf: The leaves begin as a rosette then are alternate on the stem getting smaller the higher up the stem they occur. The leaves have numerous toothed lobes with more sharply pointed teeth between the lobes. The upper surface usually has no hairs. The under surface has scattered short hairs especially along the prominent midvein and smaller side veins. The under surface is lighter green than the upper.

fireweed under leaf

Stem: A single strong stem can reach nine feet but is usually much shorter. There are no branches until the flower stalks go off toward the top. The stem has longitudinal grooves but no hairs. It is green but can have a few red streaks.

fireweed stem

Root: This annual has a taproot.

Fruit: The long ovate seed is attached to the central disk. The other end has a tuft of white hairs that flares out to better catch the wind.

fireweed seeds

Habitat: This plant likes open areas especially disturbed ones. It can appear in openings in the woods or more commonly along streams or rivers and along roads.

Fireweed

fireweed plant

The secret to Fireweed’s success is how fast it grows and colonizes an area. It does not compete well with other plants.

Fireweed is one of the first plants to grow in a burned over area or the gravel and mud left behind by high water along a river. This is where the name came from.

The stem streaks upward and puts out masses of flower heads. Even as new tube flowers open up old ones are making seeds. It is common to see all stages from developing flower heads to blooming ones to newly closed ones to puff balls of seeds on the same plant.

In spite of the vast numbers, hundreds to thousands of seeds a plant produces, most will end up as bird food or land in places unsuitable for the plant. I find it most commonly along the gravel bars of a river or along the edge of the gravel road where few other plants can grow.

Common Burdock Arctium minus

Arctium minus Bernh.

July to October                                            I                                   Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Cardueae

Burdock flower head

Flower: Groups of flower heads are on the tips of branches or on long stalks from leaf nodes. Under each flower head is a big olive-shaped ovary covered with green spines with hooked ends. The flower heads have numerous tube flowers ranging from pink to purple. The pistils stick out with white styles and divided pink to purple stigmas.

Burdock side flower

Leaf: The alternate leaves are triangular with a strong midvein and long petiole. As the leaves go higher on the stem, the petioles get shorter and the leaves smaller. Their edges are smooth and wavy. On top they have a few hairs mostly over the veins. Underneath they are covered with short hairs so they feel like soft sandpaper.

burdock leaf

Stem: Mostly appearing the second year when it can get very tall, nearly six feet. The stem is ridged with minute hairs scattered on it. It can have purple streaks. The older stems get woody. There are numerous branches.

burdock stem

Root: There is a long swollen taproot.

Fruit: The olive-shaped structure contains the seeds. It matures to brown. The hooked spines harden. The hooks catch onto any passerby.

burdock bur

Habitat: Occasionally burdock is in wood openings but is normally found in disturbed areas such as barnyards, pastures and railroad rights of way.

Edibility: Young stems can be eaten as greens. The roots can be eaten or dried and ground in coffee.

Common Burdock

burdock plant

Burdock is one of those plants with a double life. For many it is a weed. It is a large plant growing in almost any soil.

For others burdock is a crop grown for its root. As the plant is a biennial meaning it grows leaves and roots for a year and seeds the next, it is normally grown for the first year then harvested so it does not go to seed. The root is said to be of better quality grown this way. The roots are used in herbal medicine.

The ripe seed pods are well known as burs. The hooks grab onto any cloth or fur that brushes them. The pod tears apart when pulled to remove the bur.

In the 1940’s George de Mestral found burrs stuck on his pants. This got him to thinking and experimenting. In 1955 he patented the result as Velcro.

Since burdock is a biennial, it can be eradicated by digging out the year old plants. The seeds can lie dormant for some years so this could take a few years to catch all of them. Missed plants can be kept from seeding.

Usually I end up cutting the flowering stalks down. Like many weeds, once the flowers are pollinated, they will produce seeds so the stalks must be disposed of.

Prairie Dogbane Apocynum cannabinum

Apocynum cannabinum L.

June to August                                             N                                 Family: Apocynaceae

 

Dogbane flowers

Dogbane flowers never open very far. They keep that tight bell shape with the scalloped edges.

Flower: Clusters of bell-shaped white to greenish white flowers tip the stems. Each flower bell has five triangular lobes on the rim. The pistil is a mound in the center of the flower.

Dogbane leaf

Dogbane leaves are opposite with short petioles. Their oval shape is much like that of common milkweed leading to incorrect identification.

Leaf: The opposite leaves have no or very short petioles. The leaf blade is bright green. The midvein and main side veins are almost white.

Dogbane stem

Dogbane stems are red. All of the stems, large or small are red.

Stem: The main stem is stout and has many opposite paired branches. The main stem reaches four feet. The stems are reddish.

Dogbane seed pods

Dogbane seed pods may look like bean pods but the seeds definitely don’t as they have tufts of hairs on the tops.

Fruit: The fruit is a long pod five or six inches in length. The seeds are lined up inside the pod. They are topped by a tuft of hairs.

Habitat: This plant is common along roads. It grows in a wide variety of places but likes to be in the sun.

Poisonous: All parts are poisonous.

 

Prairie Dogbane

Indian Hemp

Dogbane plant

Every dogbane branch can tip itself with a flower umbel. Only a few seem to produce pods and seeds.

Much of the summer Prairie Dogbane lines the roads. At times the stands of plants are thick enough to overwhelm all but seeding grasses. The plants send out rhizomes creating colonies that can become a problem in pastures.

Superficially dogbane resembles various milkweeds with its opposite leaves. Even Monarch butterflies get confused occasionally and lay eggs on dogbane but the luckless caterpillars do not survive. The easy distinguishing characteristic is the branches. Dogbane branches. Milkweeds do not.

Breaking a stem or tearing a leaf releases a white milky sap. This is poisonous and makes the entire plant poisonous. It has been used medicinally as a laxative. The plant has also been used to produce a dark tan to black dye.

The name cannabinum refers to the hemp qualities of the plant. Pioneer women would take the stems and rub them, twisting them in the process to make thread said to be stronger than cotton thread. These fibers were used for twine, nets, fabric and bowstrings.

Butterflies like the flowers and the plant flowers for several months. The plant is used for butterfly gardens but must be restrained or it will spread and overwhelm the entire area. It is drought tolerant and not very fussy about soils.

Water Hemlock Cicuta maculata

I am slowly moving along on the plant pages and am now working in the family Apiaceae. This family is one of many common weeds and plants. They have a central stalk topped by an umbel of tiny flowers. This is one of them, one to be wary of. Again, if you have comments, suggestions or constructive criticisms, please let me know.

The pictures on the original pages are arranged differently alongside the writing. This is difficult to do here.

Cicuta maculata

May to September                                       N                                 Family: Apiaceae

water hemlock flowers

Flower: The typical family umbel is formed of balls of flower clusters spread out in a rounded flattened hemisphere. Each cluster is on a long hairy light green stalk. Each flower is on a short light green hairy stalk. The five petals have short hairs on the outside. They begin curved inward and unfurl. the five stamens then unfurl to stick out over the open flower. An individual flower is about a quarter inch across.

water hemlock leaf

Leaf: The leaves are compound, split into three parts. Upper leaves may have only three leaflets. Lower leaves may have each of the three leaflets split in threes. Petioles get longer on the lower leaves. The petioles are split open on the top, purplish. the leaves are a dull dark green. Each leaflet has a midvein and is toothed. All are covered with very short hairs.

water hemlock under leaf

Stem: The stem is hollow, ridged and unbranched. It is green between the ridges and purple on the ridges. Whenever a petiole goes off, there is a ridge around the stem. The base of the petiole spreads out around half of the stem. There may be a partition inside the stem at this point as well.

water hemlock stem

Root: There is a main taproot. It can be enlarged and bulbous. It is extremely toxic.

Fruit: Not done yet.

Habitat: Moist areas are preferred. It grows along road ditches, streams, ravines, around ponds and lakes and in low lying moist areas of pastures.

Poisonous: This plant is considered to be the most toxic plant in North America. All parts are toxic. Boys have been poisoned using the hollow stems for whistles.

 

Common Water Hemlock

Spotted Cowbane

water hemlock plants

Only a few mouthfuls of this plant can kill a cow. This has earned this plant the place of most poisonous plant in North America.

As its name implies, water hemlock likes moist places such as roadside ditches and open ravines. The spring leaves can go unnoticed.

Once the purple flower stalk extends upward to five or six feet, the plant is very noticeable. The stems can be an inch in diameter and are hollow.

Each ball of flowers is on its own stalk. The creamy white is an attractive color adding to the noticeability of the plant.

All parts of water hemlock are poisonous. The plants are annuals making control possible. Cutting the plants off is ineffective as new stalks will grow up and bloom.

The plant itself must be pulled or killed. Since the sap is very toxic, gloves are essential. As soon as the stalks make the identification easy, the plants should be pulled. Each of the numerous flowers will produce a seed so waiting is not wise.

The area must be checked for several years as the seed can lie dormant for some time.

Another related hemlock, poison hemlock introduced from Europe, looks similar. Both are annuals and highly poisonous. Water hemlock has a compound leaf with coarse toothed leaflets subdivided into threes. Poison hemlock has finely cut leaves similar to those of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Creating Plant Pages

Winter weather in the Ozarks is much the same each year. We get cold, frost, mist to fog, snow and wind.

Winter plants are much the same each year too. The trees are bare. Only a few plants are still green and those keep under wraps as much as possible.

Winter wildlife varies some. There are a few more birds around. There are turkeys and deer hiding up in the woods eating acorns.

plant pages hairy petunia flower

There are three wild petunias. This is the hairy wild petunia Ruella humilis. It grows along the roads and up in the woods on the hills.

I’ve written about these topics in previous years, scrounging up a new one each week. Not this year.

This year I am working on the plant pages for my botany project over the winter. There are a few hundred of them waiting my attention. Each week one of them will show up here. I will make exceptions for anything special that happens.

As you read through these plant pages, I would like your help with them. Are the descriptions understandable? Are they complete enough?

I am trying to choose the pictures carefully. Do they show what they should clearly?

Please let me know what you think about the plant pages. I think the comment sections work. I know the Contact Me form works.

Each of the plant pages has a rough format. Each plant has two pages. The first has descriptions of flowers, leaves, stem and fruit. I do not dig the plants up so sometimes I can add information about the root. The second has a picture of the plant. This may not show up well for you as I am planning on regular full-sized pages for the final books.

plant pages wild ginger flower

Wild ginger flowers sit on the ground. They are obviously very hairy. I’ve never seen a fruit form but fruits must form as the plants keep spreading in moist places above the creek and in ravines.

Underneath is a short essay about the plant. Some plants have lots of information about them, others do not. What I do have is my experience with the plant.

The plant pages are still being finalized as to the information on them. Should I include a range map? Right now I am working only with Dent County, Missouri, plants so maps are unneeded. I may expand to include the Ozarks but the maps would still not really be needed. Do you feel otherwise?

I will note whether or not the plants are native to the area [N for Native, I for Introduced]. I have been asked to include edibility when applicable. The opposite of this is toxicity. The scientific name and common names will be listed as will blooming times. My guide for this will be the three volume set of Flora of Missouri by Dr. Yatskievych with the single volume by Dr. Steyermark as backup.

Thank you for your input about my plant pages. I am including two plant pages this week on Water Willow. Unfortunately, the pictures are positioned differently than on the original pages. I would have to create page images to preserve that which would make them too small for on the site. I don’t have the section and pictures for the fruits yet. Those will be added next summer.

 

Justicia americana (L.)

 

May – October                                              N                                 Family: Acanthaceae

 plant pages water willow flower

Flower: clustered at the tips of stems with An upper lavender petal, two side white petals and a lower lip with lavendar spots and streaks. They are up to 1.5 cm tall.

plant pages water willow leaves

Leaf: Long tapering at both ends making one end look like a petiole and the other pointed. The midvein stands up from the leaf.

plant pages water willow stem

Stem: The underground rhizomes create colonies to plants rooting at the nodes where aerial stems go up unbranched from 30 cm to 100 cm. These are tough but bendable.

Root: Fibrous off extensive rhizomes

Fruit:

Habitat: Prefers shallow water along streams and lakes. It will grow in water up to 1.5 m deep.

 

Water Willow

 plant pages water willow plant

Water willow seems to love water about 15 cm deep over gravel. It’s stems form large mats of green. Boaters sometimes find these large colonies a nuisance.

Once the flowers open the butterflies move in. They are a favorite of various skippers which flit from flower to flower. Since the plants bloom for months, they are a reliable source of nectar for both butterflies and bees.

When floods occur, the stems bend over letting the water rush over them. Once the flood is past, the stems rise up again. New flowers open.

If the flood uproots sections of the rhizomes and carries them downstream, the rhizomes move in wherever they land and begin new colonies.

Since water willow prefers gravel, the rhizomes stabilize the stream banks. This lets other plants such as black willow and sycamore seedlings to start growing building up the banks.

The numerous stems provide cover for baby fish. Aquatic insects move into the gravel as well enjoying the shade as well as the cover.

The aerial stems die down over the winter. In the spring the carpet of new growth appears when the water thaws and warms a bit.

Water willow would grow readily in a water garden and is sold commercially. Care must be taken to curtail the rhizomes or the water garden will become a water willow garden.

Although called willow, this plant is in the petunia group. It gets its common name from where it grows and the shape of its leaves. Only insects seem to find the plants palatable.

 

Enjoying Carolina Wrens

Squawk! Squawk! I wander over to the milk room door. My cat Cloudy is lying on the ground under the big black walnut next to the barn. One of the local Carolina wrens is hopping from branch to branch announcing and protesting his presence. He ignores the noisy bird.

Carolina wrens like squawking from trees

Wrens are easy to spot because of their tails sticking up. The Carolina wren has a white eye stripe and buff colored underside with a white throat. They are active birds hopping around in a tree and squawking to raise the alarm about any possible threat.

Perhaps the wren has a nice song. I’ve never noticed it as every wren in the area seems intent on squawking its alarm whenever I or a cat is anywhere around.

Carolina wrens are easy to spot. They are small birds in nondescript brown and white. Their identifying feature is their tail that stands straight up like an exclamation point.

Unlike the juncos and sparrows, wrens stay up off the ground. They reap seeds from dead weed stalks such as giant ragweed after the insects disappear.

Cloudy cat

My cat Cloudy was the target for the Carolina wrens. I can’t blame them as he does chase the birds. His usual quarry is the mice in the barn.

The wrens sit on tree branches, bush branches and brush piles. As long as it is off the ground with a scenic view, the perch is used.

These birds like people and their buildings. The workshop roof is open under the eaves, a space just big enough for a wren to zip through.

A nest shows up somewhere in the workshop every year. Last year it was on a shelf. The year before it was on a machine.

Carolina wrens build their nests from small twigs and dry grass stems in our workshop. The nest is loosely woven together making a serviceable bowl for eggs but sloppy on the outside.

Carolina wren in tree

This Carolina wren like others was persistent. It stayed in the tree squawking until cloudy got up and walked away.

For a couple of weeks an adult bird sits on the nest exploding off of it when approached too closely. We try to avoid the area as much as possible.

Finally the chicks appear. They grow fast and are fledged quickly. Only the empty nest is left.

Outside new squawks begin as young Carolina wrens join the alarm chorus.