Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

My Ozarks Home

This year will make twenty-five years for me here in the Ozarks. I have been looking through photographs and reminiscing about my Ozarks home.

A photograph is flat. It can’t show anyone the smells, feel or sounds of being out walking in the Ozarks. A photograph does trigger my memories of when I took the picture. Words can try to add depth to that picture.

stumps in mist on my Ozarks home

This pile of stumps was at the base of the hill pasture when I first saw the pasture, relics of when the pasture was cleared sometime in the past. They are slowly disappearing.

One of the wonderful things about living here in the Ozarks has been the opportunity to go out walking away from people and their noises. There are still times when such noise is not heard here.

I read how many people, especially young people must have their digital devices, must share their every experience right then. I pity them.

Leaving those devices behind lets me think my own thoughts, see things in my own way, get in touch with myself.

spider on web

Late summer and early fall is the time of large spiders. These orb weavers favor pathways stretching their web from one side to the other. They are almost invisible. The first warning is focusing on a large spider hanging at eye height just before stepping into the web.

My local library had a book display for those wanting to learn yoga or mindfulness or other stress reduction technique. Walking the hills and pastures of my Ozarks home does this for me. Even better is sitting still in a special place looking up the hill or down to the creek, listening to the wind, the water, the birds and the insects.

I do take one digital device with me out on my walks. My camera. I take pictures not so much to share with others as to let me revisit my walk other days. This is wonderful on those cold, cloudy, dreary days of winter.

Most of my pictures are of the plants for my botany project. Some of these are beautiful. Many others are of my goats, chickens and cats.

my Ozarks home creek

The creek runs the length of the place. In some places it is narrow and runs quickly. In others, like here, it spreads out into broad pools.

Then there are those from around the hills and pastures. They range through the seasons. They are panoramas and close ups. Each has a story to tell about being here at my Ozarks home.

As I looked through my photographs, I did come to want to share them with others, to show others why my Ozarks home is so special. Slowly a book is coming together. I plan to have it finished by this fall.

Helpful Curious Kids

Anyone familiar with goats knows both adults and kids are playful and curious. They get into everything they possibly can.

Curious kids are especially prone to leaving havoc behind them. Their small size makes turning things over to check out the inside mandatory.

This winter I have three kids and a half grown doe. The four form a formidable gang.

two curious kids

Two of my curious kids stand plotting their next move. One stunt they haven’t managed yet is to turn over a bucket of oats only because the bucket is out of reach.

The youngest was a very late kid, born November 1. She will be up for sale next month.

The next twins are from late last spring. These two are saboteurs. When I first went to advertise these spotted beauties for sale, one promptly broke a front leg.

The leg healed nicely. So I tried again to advertise the pair. They promptly came down with a virus and happily spread it to the entire herd.

The herd is now well. The kids are fine. I should again advertise these kids for sale, but am hesitant. What disaster will they cook up next?

Agate is my half grown herd addition. She is very spoiled. At almost a year old, she still gets a small bottle of milk morning and evening.

curious kids gang member

High Reaches Spring’s Agate is bigger now and thinks she is one of the big goats. Still, she loves to play and get into things with the other younger kids.

Before the present cold spell, I put the goats out during the day for a few hours. This lets the boys have the run of the barn lot and small pasture. It lets me clean out the barn, make repairs, do whatever is needed.

The herd is not impressed. The pastures have little to offer them. Drought has robbed them of the usual thick grasses. Winter has robbed them of browse.

I wanted to go out walking. The herd wanted someone to follow. I went down to the small gate into the pasture to find curious kids playing with something.

What was it these curious kids were playing with? It didn’t look like a fallen tree branch. They ignore the rocks scattered from when the new electric pole was put in.

The kids made me curious. I went out to take a look.

This was the last week of December. Deer don’t shed antlers until January. Except this year they are early. Still, I never find sheds.

sheds curious kids found

Antlers are very impressive when you hold them. They are heavy. The tines are sharp. The tines feel smooth. The base area is rough.

Thanks to those curious kids and a very large buck deer I’ve never seen, I now have a lovely matched set of ten point antlers.

Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides

Lace and ferns seem to go together. Fern fronds like on the Christmas fern have such graceful arches, a great mound of green. I went around the curve of a hill and found a wrinkle where water runs after a big storm lined with large ferns. It became a favorite place to go just to admire these beautiful plants.

 

Polystichum acrostichoides Schott

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Dryopteridaceae

Christmas fern sori

Sporangia: A fertile leaflet has a double row of circular sori under it. These have 64 tiny ball-shaped spores under them. The spores well and turn brown as they mature turning the entire underside of the leaflet an orange brown.

Christmas fern leaf

Leaf: Each compound leaf has twenty to thirty pairs of leaflets arranged alternately. Each leaflet has a prominent ‘thumb’ sticking up near the petiole. A long, single leaflet tips the petiole. Each leaflet has forked veins and toothed edges. Many of the fronds have the usual leaflets half way up then have a series of smaller, more triangular leaflets. These are the fertile leaflets with sporangia under them.

Christmas fern petiole

Stem: Clumps of petioles come up from various places on the rhizome. Each green petiole is grooved. The base has hair-like brown scales which look like scattered hairs higher up. The petioles can be two to three feet long.

Christmas fern fiddlehead

Fiddlehead: These appear in early spring. They are light green, an inch across and covered with silvery scales that look like hairs. These turn brown as the frond unrolls past them.

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and moist places. It is common on the slopes of ravines and wet weather water courses.

 

Christmas Fern

Christmas fern plant

In the fall Christmas Fern leaflets turn dark green, become shorter and lie flat on the ground. These fronds stay green all winter. They were gathered and used as Christmas decorations giving the fern its common name.

During the spring and summer, Christmas ferns are among the showiest Ozark ferns. They can form large linear colonies along fold on hillsides where rain water gathers. They line the slopes of ravines and higher sections of ravine floors. They like moist areas but not wet ones.

The ‘thumb’ on the leaflets is a definite identification when coupled with the thick, green petiole. Ebony Spleenwort also sports these ‘thumbs’ but has a thin, wiry petiole and is much smaller.

Christmas ferns are available commercially. They are easy to grow in the right places. They grow well in pots.

Finding Ferns In the Ozarks

Finding ferns in the Ozarks means leaving the lacy, arching sprays of fronds picture of ferns in the market. Some Ozark ferns look like that, but most don’t. Many are much smaller as well.

Ferns do have leaves. Familiar plants like spicebush have buds that split open and tiny leaves expand out of them. Ferns unroll their leaves from fiddleheads.

fern fiddlehead

Fiddleheads begin as tiny bumps. They seem to unroll as they grow taller. Tiny leaves expand as the fiddlehead unrolls past them until the entire frond is there looking much too big to fit into such a tiny package.

There are people who eat some kinds of these fiddleheads. They can make you feel ill, if you eat very many.

finding ferns walking ferns

Walking ferns use their leaf-like fronds to ‘walk’ new plants across the rocks. Look in damp places such as ravines or open hillsides of moist bluff rocks to find them.

Once fern leaves unroll, they look very different from one another. Walking ferns have triangular leaves with long tips that reach over to start new plants. Maidenhair ferns have leaflets like tiny fans. Grape ferns and bracken have a single lacy leaf. Christmas ferns look like small commercial ferns.

Most fern leaves have two parts. One is the stem or rachis. This can be covered with hairs, wide or narrow, cordlike or winged, green or red.

finding ferns Christmas ferns

Christmas ferns look much like the ferns people think of. Each of the leaflets on the fronds has a little thumb sticking up near the stem or rachis.

Leaflets attach to the rachis. These can be alternate or opposite. Some are simple and others lobed or even divided multiple times into fine lace.

Finding ferns means looking in different places. Many do prefer moister locations. Christmas ferns like the sides of ravines. Walking ferns like wet bluff rocks. Grape ferns prefer the floors of ravines.

finding ferns cut leaf grape fern

Three grape ferns call Missouri home. These have a single frond and a stalk topped with tiny ‘grapes’ that split to release spores. This is a cut leaf grape fern.

I have always liked ferns and have done my best to notice the various ferns around on my hills. The difficulty has always been to identify the various ones. Some are easy. A few have defied my attempts for years.

finding ferns maidenhair ferns

Maidenhair ferns have circular fronds. The dark,cord like stalk or rachis has a partial ring with compound fronds sticking straight out. Look for these in moist ravines and along streams and wet weather creeks in shady places.

Now I am trying my luck finding all the different kinds of ferns found in Dent County. According to Yatskievych’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 1, there are 22 known to occur here and 9 more possibles. So far I’ve found 9 of the known, 3 of the possibles and have 3 unknowns.

Droughts are hard on ferns. My holiday wish is for the drought to break. Even though few plants are actively growing over the winter, the soil would stockpile that water for next spring when I can renew my quest of finding ferns.

Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum

I suppose many people would chop down the winged sumac on the hill. We do now and then when it gets too tall and thick. But the hill there is too steep to do much else, the sumac is pretty especially in the fall and the praying mantises love it for laying their eggs. So the sumac stays.

Rhus copallinum L.

June to July                                                  N                                 Family: Anacardiaceae

winged sumac umbel

Flower: Branches end with terminal clusters of flowers forming a drooping cone. Each yellowish white flower is tiny, an eighth of an inch across with five petals and five stamens. The calyx under the flower has five triangular lobes that spread out.

winged sumac flowers

Leaf: The alternate leaves are compound with seven to twelve leaflets. The first pair of leaflets is the shortest and they get bigger as they go toward the tip and can reach three inches long. The center stem is winged. The edges are smooth. The leaves are not hairy.

winged sumac leaf

Stem: New stems are hairy. Older stems lose the hairs and become woody with a smooth gray bark dotted with lenticels or raised spots. The stems often branch forming leggy shrubs. Most are five to six feet tall, but can reach 20 feet.

winged sumac under leaf

Root: There is a perennial taproot and rhizomes.

winged sumac bark

Fruit: The single seeds have a red, fleshy coating and are hairy. The red darkens over the winter, if the seeds are not eaten.

winged sumac bud

Habitat: This plant likes sunny, drier areas such as prairies, old fields and roadsides.

winged sumac berries

Edibility: Fresh berries can be steeped. The tea must be filtered to remove the hairs.

winged sumac in summer

Winged Sumac

Dwarf Sumac, Shining Sumac

winged sumac in fall

Early in fall Winged Sumac turns brilliant, glowing scarlet. As it tends to form large colonies, this can be quite spectacular to see. Over the summer the colony is dark green.

There are several sumacs. This one is easy to identify by the winged stems joining the leaflets.

When the flowers open, the air hums from the many insects moving between the clusters. The flowers are too small to see unless you are very close. From a distance the cluster changes from green to off white. The flowers are very engaging to the insects as you can get close enough to examine the flowers without disturbing the busy plying of the bees, wasps, flies and beetles.

The tea from the berries has a slightly lemony taste. The tea is often called Indian Lemonade, although the Indians called it Quallah. It is good plain or sweetened. It does have to be filtered as the hairs are small and stiff and ruin the drink. A good measure is two cups of berries per quart of hot, not boiling, water. This can be adjusted to taste. Dried berries (not old berries off the bushes) can be used.

Enjoy more about the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.

Thimbleweed Anemone virginiana

Thimbles are still around, but many people don’t know what they are now. Still, thimbleweed seed capsules don’t really look like my thimbles. They have so many little hooked beaks sticking out. That would never do in sewing as the material would snag.

Anemone virginiana L.

June to August                                                         N                     Family: Ranunculaceae

thimbleweed flower

Flower: Each stem has a single terminal flower. There are five greenish to white sepals and no petals spreading out to three quarters of an inch across. The sepals have a narrow base, flare out and taper to a shallowly lobed tip. There are three lobes. The edges curl upwards. The center of the flower is a mound of green pistils surrounded by a base of stamens.

thimbleweed side flower

Leaf: Most of the leaves are basal. A single whorl of two or three leaves occurs about half way up the stem. Each leaf is deeply lobed into two or three sections sometimes seeming to divide the leaf into leaflets. Each lobe has two or three shallow lobes. The edges have large, coarse teeth. The lobes and teeth have sharp points. The leaf is on a long petiole with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed leaf

Stem: A single stem or several grow up from the root to a height of one to two and a half feet. It is unbranched although second stems can go up from the single whorl of leaves. The stem is round, green with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

thimbleweed stem

Fruit: The mound of pistils increases in size and can approach an inch long, half that wide. It is thimble-shaped and each pistil sticks out as a little beak. In fall the seed head becomes a mass of wooly hairs attached to the tiny seeds.

thimbleweed fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and good soil. It is drought tolerant, but prefers moister conditions. It grows along roads, in ravines, along streams and in open woods.

thimbleweed open fruit

Thimbleweed

thimbleweed plant

Although the basal leaves of the Thimbleweed are large and distinctive, the plant often goes unnoticed until the tall stems go up and the flowers open. The leaves are a study in threes: three leaves in a whorl, three large lobes per leaf, and three shallow lobes in each large lobe.

The flowers can be mistaken for no others. The flower sits atop the stem with white sepals spread wide. Since the stamens are long and numerous, they give the flower a bushy look.

For weeks after the sepals have fallen away, the thimble remains. It gains in size. For those who learned hand sewing, a thimble was essential to protect the index finger from the needle. The thimble of the Thimbleweed is the right size and shape.

In the fall the thimbles become a fluffy mass. This generally begins on one side of the thimble and spreads until the entire thimble breaks apart. The wind pulls the mass apart as separate seeds fly away.

This is an interesting plant and easy to grow once established. Several of them would make nice foci in a shady bed. The plants do like some open ground around them.

Long Leaf Bluet Houstonia longifolia

It’s easy to overlook the long leaf bluet flowers in the spring as they are small, the plants are small and delicate. Once spotted, that delicacy makes them easy to identify and worth watching for in other places.

Houstonia longifolia Gaertn.

April to July, rarely fall                             N                                 Family: Rubiaceae

Long Leaf Bluet flower

Flower: Irregular clusters of flowers branch out of stem tips. A few flowers open randomly at a time. Each flower has a stalk as long as the flower, about half an inch. The flower has a cup-shaped, green calyx with four teeth around the base. The flower is a half inch long tube that splits into four or five lobes that spread out flat a quarter inch across. This flower can be white to purplish pink and is covered with hairs. A flower may be a pistillate one having a pistil and shriveled stamens or have several stamens and a shriveled pistil.

Long Leaf Bluet side flower

Leaf: There can be a basal rosette, but this is usually gone before the plant blooms. Opposite leaves line the branches. More small branches of leaves come from the leaf axils. Each leaf is green, half to an inch long and less than a quarter inch wide.

Long Leaf Bluet leaf

Stem: Each crown puts up numerous stems. The stems are green with four angles, branches and can reach ten inches tall. The upper branches have terminal flower clusters.

Long Leaf Bluet under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a crown with fibrous roots.

Long Leaf Bluet stem

Fruit: The seed pod is a globular, two sided capsule with several seeds in each side. This turns brown and dries so the capsule splits to release the seeds.

Long Leaf Bluet fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers sunny, drier places and can be common in prairies, open woods, pastures and roadsides.

 

Long Leaf Bluet

Slender-leaved Bluet

Long Leaf bluet plant

Walking along this plant catches attention due to the number of flowers on it. Long Leaf Bluets are a leggy plants. Everything about them is slender, the leaves, the stems and the flowers.

The stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The leaves are about an eighth of an inch wide. The flowers are a quarter of an inch across. This leaves the plant looking delicate and leggy although it’s less than a foot tall.

The flowers usually look light pink to white. These show up well against the dark green leaves. The many clusters are full of buds so lots of flowers open each day.

Long Leaf Bluets are moving into rock gardens. They are easy to grow from seed and return bigger every year. They are not fussy about soil and don’t mind a bit of dryness.

New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus

This is one wildflower I overlook until I smell the flowers. This is strange as New Jersey Tea is a big plant. The ones I see are often overshadowed by surrounding, bigger plants and tend to spread wide instead of getting tall. it is a plant worth looking for.

Ceanothus americanus L.

May to November                                       N                                 Family: Rhamnaceae

New Jersey Tea flowers

Flower: Branch tips are surrounded by clusters of white flowers. Other clusters come from leaf nodes. Each flower is barely a quarter inch across with 5 sepals, 5 petals, 5 stamens and a pistil on a stalk, all white. The flowers are fragrant.

New Jersey Tea flower umbel

Leaf: Leaves line the stems and are mostly alternate, but can be opposite. Each leaf is egg-shaped on a short petiole. Three big veins go out from the leaf’s base. The tip is rounded. The leaf is dark green with scattered hairs on top and light green with prominent veins and short hairs on the bottom.

New Jersey Tea leaf

Stem: Multiple stems come up from the root. They branch and can reach three feet in height. The stems start out light green turning yellowish and becoming woody especially at the base as they get older. The younger stems are hairy.

New Jersey Tea under leaf

Root: This perennial has a taproot.

New Jersey Tea stem

Fruit: There are 3 seeds inside a three lobed pod. These turn brown and dry when ripe splitting open to eject the seeds forcefully enough to travel several feet.

New Jersey Tea Fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny places. these can be drier areas such as prairies, fields, roadsides and edges of woods.

Edibility: Many animals eat this plant. The leaves can be dried and used for tea. It has historical medicinal uses.

 

New Jersey Tea

Wild Snowball

New Jersey Tea plant

Walking along the rich, sweet scent of New Jersey Tea alerts the walker to the presence of the plant. It is easy to spot with its white flower clusters looking like a stockpile of snowballs waiting to be used.

Shortly before the revolutionary War, the colonists boycotted English tea. This was a popular beverage. The leaves from this plant were used as a substitute for tea giving it the common name of New Jersey Tea.

The plant can be fairly large, reaching three feet tall and as much or more side. The foliage is attractive. It does convert some nitrogen into useable form.

The flowers are present for several months although the clusters are fewer in number and look a little ragged as the season progresses. The seed pods are interesting to look at as the clusters of them are as big as the flower cluster they replace.

Once established, the plant increases in size each year. It is drought resistant.

Pale Leather Flower Clematis versicolor

Finding and photographing a Pale Leather Flower vine in bloom can be challenging. Finding is the easy part as it is fairly common in places it likes to grow. Photographing can be difficult as the vines are often mixed into other vines such as virgin’s bower, yellow passion flower, cat briar and wild yam.

Clematis versicolor Small ex Rydb

May to June                                                  N                                 Family: Ranunculaceae

pale leather flower side flower

Flower: The flower is on a long stalk from a leaf node. It is formed from four sepals fused together in an egg-shape with the large end attached to the stalk. The small end opens up with the ends of the sepals curling out and back. The upper end of the flower is purple. the lower end is white or greenish white. A mass of stamens is inside the flower surrounding several pistils.

Pale Leather Flower flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves have long petioles and can be single or compound with 3 to 5 leaflets. All leaves or leaflets have smooth edges. They form a long oval with a short, tapered, rounded tip. There is a midvein. The other veins form a net lighter in color than the dark green leaf. The underside is light green.

pale leather flower leaf

Stem: Young stems are green and twine around anything nearby. Older stems turn reddish and woody. The stems are ridged. The vines can be fifteen feet long and generally bunch up over another plant rather than running the entire length. The stems put out numerous branches.

pale leather flower under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

pale leather flower stem

Fruit: A ball of seed pods, each like a tall hat with an extra long peak, contains the seeds. These mature and break open the now dry pods to spread a long fluffy line out to get caught by the wind.

pale leather flower fruit

Habitat: This plant likes shady, moist places such as open, low woods and ravines as well as roadsides near these places.

 

Pale Leather Flower

Leather Flower

pale leather flower plant

Pale Leather Flower vines spread across low growing vegetation and fences. It’s rare for them to go up into trees. The vines can twine but often only sprawl.

The flowers are easy to spot on vines growing along the roads. A single vine can have dozens of flowers on it. The flowers are unusual in both shape and color compared to other plants growing nearby.

Pale Leather Flower is available commercially. The leaves are a nice shade of green. The vines would grow well on a trellis or wire fence. The flowers bob and dance in any breeze on their long stalks. The seed pod groups are interesting to look at.

Self Heal Prunella vulgaris

Looking down on a Self Heal flower head makes identification easy. No other plant has flowers with this lovely shade of lavender in this arrangement. Even better is the long blooming time so the pleasant experience of spotting one of these plants comes in many places many times over the summer.

 

Prunella vulgaris L.

May to September                                       N                                 Family: Lamiaceae

Self heal top flower

Flower: A terminal flower spike keeps lengthening to extend the blooming season. Whorls of calyxes with small bracts circle the spike. Each calyx cup can be green to reddish and has lines of hairs on the edges. Each hosts a single flower. The flower has an upper lavender lip forming a hood and a lower white, fringed lower lip with two small lavender side lobes. The outer part of the top hood has spiky hairs up the center.

Self Heal flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are wedge shaped. The lower leaves are larger and have partially winged petioles. The upper leaves have short petioles and finally are sessile. Each leaf has blunt teeth along the edge and scattered very short hairs on top and underside.

Self Heal leaf

Stem: A single central stem can reach 12 inches. The stem has four sharp angles making it square. The angles can have lines of short hairs. The stem is usually green but can have reddish angles.

Self Heal under leaf

Root: The root is a short, perennial taproot. There are fibrous roots and short rhizomes.

Self heal stem

Fruit: Four seeds develop in each calyx cup.

Habitat: This plant likes low, moist areas such as ravine floors and stream banks. It favors disturbed areas like old fields and roadside ditches.

Edibility: This plant has a long history of medicinal use and has been shown to have both antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. The leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked or brewed as tea.

 

Self Heal

Heal All

Self heal plant

Self Heal is found in one variety or another almost world wide. It is a smaller plant I usually find along the creek bed. But other plants show up in many diverse places as long as they are near moisture.

Most often the plant is spotted because of the lavender hoods sticking out as seen from the top. Since the plant is rarely over a foot tall, the rest of the flower is visible only by getting down and looking.

Toward fall the up to six inch flower spikes have browned. A few flowers may still ring the top. The seeds are hidden down inside the brown cups.

There is an idea that the brown, stiff calyx cups act like springboards in the rain. A drop of rain hits the top pushing it down. When it rebounds, seeds are tossed out to land a short distance from the mother plant.

Virginia Knotweed Persicaria virginiana

When I first noticed Virginia Knotweed, I thought the flowers never opened very wide, but stayed as these half moon, white bits on a long, dark cord. The flowers are small and easy to ignore. One day I noticed a flower looked different and found this plant has lovely, small, white flowers.

 

Persicaria virginiana Gaertn.

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Polygonaceae

Virginia knotweed flower

Flower: White flowers are spaced out along the end of the stem which has thinned to form a tough cord. Each flower is small, a quarter of an inch across, with four petals, four stamens and two pistils. They open a few at a time in a generally base to tip order.

Virginia knotweed leaf

Leaf: Alternate leaves are dark green on top and lighter on the underside. The lower leaves have petioles that become shorter as the leaves are higher on the stem. The leaves are thick with a strong midvein, covered sparsely with short hairs. They have smooth edges and are broadest in the middle and taper to a sharp point.

Virginia knotweed under leaf

Stem: The green stems can reach four feet long, half of which is lined with flowers. They start growing up but the flowering portion arches over. Each leaf node is wrapped with a thin tissue surrounding the petiole base and the stem. This is tan and papery. It has several long bristles that stick up from the top lying along the stem. The stem and the rest of the ligule are covered with short hairs.

Virginia knotweed stem

Root: The perennial root puts out rhizomes producing clumps of plants.

Fruit: The flower closes to form a half moon, eighth of an inch long, dark brown seed capsule. The pistils persist turning stiff and hard with a curved tip making a beak.

Virginia knotweed seeds

Habitat: This plant likes growing in the shade in moister areas such as roadsides near ravines and ditches, stream banks, low woods and bluff bases.

 

Virginia Knotweed

Jumpseed

Virginia knotweed plant

Virginia Knotweed is a late grower along the roads. Once it gets started, it forms masses of large leaves up to six inches long.

The long flower stalks are very thin, like dark, stiff string. The flowers look like little, white beaks scattered along its length. Since they have this shape both before and after blooming, an open flower can be a surprise.

The flowers are small, but a lovely, glistening white. They open for a day, then close.

Once the seeds form, the long stems show their usefulness. They move in any breeze, even that created by a passing creature. The seed beaks stab into fur or cloth. The seeds seem to jump off the stem to get carried off. This is the source of one common name.

The plant favors shady spots. It is difficult to photograph as the flower stems are so thin and the flowers so small. These disappear into the background unless it is a solid, dark one like a stump.

The plants grow from rhizomes so they tend to grow in colonies. The colonies get larger each year as the roots are perennial. This can leave an area thick with the plants shading out other wildflowers and grasses, although taller plants like goldenrod grow up through them.

Yellow Giant Hyssop Agastache nepetoides

Yellow Giant Hyssop is a strange looking plant. I noticed it as a tall candelabra scaffold of branches tipped with bottle brushes. This second year of looking at it is bringing out the skeletal beauty of the plants.

Agastache nepetoides Kuntze

July to September                                       N                                 Family: Lamiaceae

Yellow Giant Hyssop flower

Flower: Each branch is tipped with a flower spike. The individual flowers have green cup, 5 pointed lobed calyxes. They are in dense whorls on the spike. A few flowers open each day seemingly at random. The flower is tubular, less than half an inch long with rounded lobes at the end. Two lobes are on top. two lobes are on the sides. A single wider lobe forms a lower lip. The flower is listed as yellow but is usually creamy white, turning yellowish as it ages. there are four stamens and a pistil split at the end.

Yellow Giant Hyssop flower spike

Leaf: Leaves are opposite with long, up to two inches, grooved petioles. The leaves are twice as long, up to 6 inches, as wide with coarsely toothed edges. The leaf top is green with indented main veins. The under side is light green and covered with short hairs.

Yellow Giant Hyssop leaf

Stem: One main stem can reach 7 feet tall. A few branches go off oppositely from about half way up the stem. All the branch stems arch out then straight up. The stems are square, have four sharp angles, are light green, feel scratchy and are stiff.

Yellow Giant Hyssop under leaf

Root: The perennial root is fibrous with rhizomes.

Yellow Giant Hyssop stem

Fruit: Four seeds develop in the base of each calyx. they turn deep brown when ripe.

Yellow Giant Hyssop seeds

Habitat: This plant likes light shade and good soil with adequate moisture. It grows in open woods, along streams and roads.

 

Yellow Giant Hyssop

Yellow Giant Hyssop plant

Yellow Giant Hyssop might seem hard to miss because it is so tall. It is easy to overlook because the plants are so open. The flower spikes are long but only a few flowers, all short, open at a time so the spikes can appear to be thick branch tips. The color of Yellow Giant Hyssop is a medium green that blends into a background often much more colorful with brown-eyed Susans or boneset or white snakeroot.

Once noticed, Yellow Giant Hyssop catches the eye every time it is in the vicinity. As there are rhizomes, established plants can be part of small colonies.

The stems feel hard and stiff. They are brittle. The branches snap off the main stem, if pulled down a short ways. The main stem can be snapped off by the wind and the remaining part will send up a new main stem and branches.

I see these plants most commonly along the roadside. They can grow in open areas as overgrown pastures but are more common under trees along ditches.

Spearmint Mentha spicata

So many items come with spearmint flavoring: gums, mouthwash, chewing tobacco, candy and more. All this flavoring comes from a plant that now grows worldwide, first as a crop, then as a naturalized citizen.

It’s fun to come across this plant and easy to identify it due to the smell. You can chew on a leaf, but beware it’s potency.

Mentha spicata L.

June to October                                           I                                   Family: Lamiaceae

spearmint flower

Flower: Flowers occur in spikes at the ends of branches. These spikes can reach several inches in length. The individual flowers are in whorls around the spike. Each white, pink or lavender flower is tube-shaped with five lobes at the open end and a five l pointed lobed calyx around the base. Four stamens are spaced around and lie along the tube. A single pistil with a split tip sticks out of the center of some of the flowers.

spearmint umbel

Leaf: Opposite, sessile leaves have numerous teeth with their pointed tips bent toward the leaf tip. The leaves are longer than wide, darker green on top than underneath and have indented veins giving them a wrinkled look. The tops have no hairs although there may be a line of hairs along the midvein on the under side. Whole or crushed the leaves have a strong, minty odor.

spearmint leaf

Stem: The green stems have four angles and are squared. They often lie prostrate but can grow erect up to two feet tall. There are usually no hairs on the stems. Every leaf node can put out roots.

spearmint under leaf

Root: The perennial root is fibrous with rhizomes.

spearmint stem

Fruit: The plant spreads vegetatively through rhizomes and rooting at leaf nodes. Some of the flowers do produce seeds with four tucked into the calyx of the flower.

Habitat: This plant prefers growing in shallow water in full sun along stream banks, springs and ponds.

Edibility: Spearmint is used as a flavoring in many foods and medicines. The leaves can be used for and in tea.

Spearmint

spearmint plant

Spearmint is smelled before it is seen. The minty odor surrounds the patch and crushing the leaves increases it many times.

Much of the time Spearmint grows low to the ground, less than a foot high. It likes to grow in four or five inches of water. The plants grow so densely, few other plants grow in the area covered.

When conditions are favorable, Spearmint spreads aggressively. Most of the spread is due to rooting at the leaf nodes. The rhizomes can grow out a foot or more putting up new branches every few inches. Since the rhizomes are below the ground a little, they withstand drought and cold weather.

Spearmint is used for various foods such as mint jelly or in mint icing. The leaves make a strong tea. The crushed leaves are supposed to have an antiseptic effect. The tea is used to soothe the stomach.

A leaf can be picked and chewed on. The intensity builds quickly spreading around the mouth. It soon is like a strong mouthwash.

Too much of the juice can be toxic.

Dodder Cuscuta ssp

Although Dodder vines grow throughout the spring and summer, they are most noticeable in late summer into fall. The yellow or orange vines draped over other plants in sometimes thick blankets is eye catching. The long, thin, waxy stems do earn their common name of witch’s hair.

 

Cuscuta ssp

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Convolvulaceae

dodder flower

Flower: Groups of flowers open along the stems throughout the blooming time. The flowers can be insect pollinated or will self pollinate. The flowers are white. They have three to five sharply pointed corolla lobes, depending on the species. These lobes can curve inward or flare slightly.

dodder side flower

Leaf: If rudimentary leaves are present, they are alternate. Any leaves present are reduced to flaps. They have the same color and look as the stem, containing no chlorophyll and are incapable of photosynthesis.

dodder stem twining

Stem: Annual, thin, white to yellow to orange, waxy stems twine around and sprawl across host plants. Periodically hastoria or suckers pierce the host plant stem to divert sap into the dodder stem. Stems can be several feet in length.

dodder stem suckers

Root: The seed puts out a root which withers away when the stem finds a host plant or a few days pass even if no host plant has been found.

Dodder fruit

Fruit: The seed capsules are globular and turn brown at maturity. The seeds can be spread by wind or water.

rope dodder fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun and moist areas but will grow wherever host plants grow. Each dodder species can parasitize more than one species of plant.

dodder plants blanketing host plants

Dodder

Field, Buttonbush, Compact, Rope, Common, Pretty,

Smartweed, Hazel, Cusp, Witch’s Hair

dodder plant on sedges

All Dodders are parasitic producing no chlorophyll themselves. If the germinating sprout doesn’t find a host plant within a day or so, it will die.

Dodder vines are like long, thin spaghetti with a waxy coating. Different species vary in color but fall in the white to yellow to orange range. The mass of such color can be striking.

Some of the Dodders can be identified in the field. Rope Dodder forms thick coils of stems, flowers and seed capsules. Buttonbush Dodder has four lobes in its flower. Most require careful study of the flowers under magnification so they are treated as a group here.

The different Dodders may have a preferred host plant but are not confined to that one plant. That makes identification by the host plant unreliable.

Dodder can overwhelm the host plants and kill them.

Giant Ragweed Ambrosia trifida

Every year I watch the giant ragweed start to grow. It lines the road. It surrounds the barn. It fills the barn lot and adjacent pasture. Its population gains every year.

The pollen spikes start growing. They get six to ten inches tall lined with green balls. When the green balls open, releasing pollen into the air, the boxes of tissues get set out around the house.

By mid September the spikes are only brown stalks. The pollen is gone for the year. Now the seeds scatter across the ground promising a new, bigger crop of giant ragweed next year.

 

Ambrosia trifida L.

July to September                                       N                                 Family: asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

giant ragweed male flowers

Male flowers

Flower: There are separate male and female flowers. The male flowers are in hanging bundles on a spire. One main and several auxiliary spires can come from the tips of each branch. The female flowers are tucked into swirls of bracts at the base of the spires. The flowers are wind pollinated.

giant ragweed female flowers

Two female flowers

Leaf: Opposite leaves are rough, green on the upper side, slightly paler on the under side and covered with very short hairs. Many of the leaves have three lobes but can have five or none. Main veins run out each lobe. The leaves have long petioles that can be winged. each leaf can reach twelve inches long and eight inches wide.

giant ragweed under leaf

Stem: The thick, ridged stem can reach 12 feet in height. It has branches. The stems are light green, rough to the touch, stiff, hollow and have lines of short hairs. The bases of tall stems thicken, become woody and can be three inches in diameter.

giant ragweed leaf

Root: The annual roots are fibrous around a taproot.

giant ragweed stem

Fruit: The seed is tan with an ovate base. the top has a main rounded spike surrounded by a ring of lower, rounded lobes.

giant ragweed fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun, good soil and moisture. It is not particular and grows in a wide variety of places especially disturbed ground and pastures.

Edibility: Cattle, goats and deer eat giant ragweed. The seeds have a tough coat but can be eaten.

 

Giant Ragweed

Great Ragweed, Horseweed, Buffalo Weed

giant ragweed plant

Giant Ragweed is considered a noxious weed in some states. it does tend to form dense colonies once established in an area. It is the most abundant ragweed.

The plants are annuals and produce lots of seeds. These germinate in mid to late spring. The seedlings grow rapidly often in dense stands, many of which die from the competition.

Although, under ideal conditions, Giant Ragweed can to 12 feet with stalks three inches in diameter, tough enough to require a saw to cut them, many times the plants are cut or grazed or mowed off. The plants then put out new branches quickly reaching two to three feet and blooming. Even six inch plants will put up single spires.

As are other ragweeds, Giant Ragweed is wind pollinated. Each plant produces tremendous amounts of pollen. This is a major cause of hayfever in late summer.

Bees still visit Giant Ragweed male flowers to gather pollen. They may knock some pollen down on the female flowers, but do not visit them. They leave the pollen spikes heavily laden.

Archeologists find caches of Giant Ragweed seeds at various sites. The seeds are tough but do contain edible oils. Few birds can eat them due to the tough shells.

Spreading Aster Symphyotrichum patens

When blue daisies like the spreading aster begin to bloom, fall is close behind. This aster is common along the roads now along with Drummond’s Aster, Azure Aster and New England Aster.

 

Symphyotrichum patens G.L. Nesom

August to October                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Astereae

spreading aster flower

Flower: Flower stalks grow out of leaf nodes. They can branch and tend to be long and slender. Each one has a single flower head at the end. The cup holding the flower has numerous, small, pointed, hairy, green bracts with purple tips. These lie smoothly but make a jagged top of the cup. Sticking out of the cup are 15 to 20 rays lying flat and making a flower head almost two inches across. The rays are blue to purplish blue and often lighter on the first half and deeply colored on the outer half. The central disk flowers are yellow.

spreading aster side flower

Leaf: Only stem leaves are present when the plant blooms. These alternate leaves are sessile and have two projections that clasp the stem and a tapered, slightly rounded tip. The edges have no teeth or lobes. Both top and bottom are covered with short hairs which go around the leaf edges too.

spreading aster leaf

Stem: The branched stems can reach four feet. They attempt to grow upward, but usually curve down toward the ground. The green stems are hairy.

spreading aster under leaf

Root: The perennial root is both rhizomes and thickened fibrous roots.

spreading aster stem

Fruit: The seeds are purplish brown footballs.

spreading aster seeds

Habitat: This plant likes full to partial sun growing in pastures, open woods, glades, prairies and along roads.

 

Spreading Aster

Purple Daisy

spreading aster plant

There are several blue to purplish blue daisies blooming in late summer into fall. Spreading Aster can be identified by the leaves clasping the stems and the hairiness of the stems.

These blue asters are among the first blue aster to bloom along the roads. The two to three foot long stems arch over the ground with several long flower stalks sticking out. the flowers open one or two then several at a time.

Smaller butterflies such as buckeyes, red admirals and skippers visit the flowers.

Once the flowers are pollinated, the rays wither. The seeds develop and brown with the threads sticking out of the enclosing cup. There can be buds to blooms to seeds on the same plant at the same time.

Although small, the flowers are delicately pretty. The plants are fairly drought tolerant. Seeds are available from a variety of sources.

False Buckwheat Fallopia scandens

Every year the false buckwheat vines grow up over the front porch railings and part way up the posts. They stay as the vines are attractive all summer into fall. Frost kills them but they are easy to pull off and dispose of, no thorns, stickers or burs.

 

Fallopia scandens Holub

June to November                                       N & I                           Family: Polygonaceae

false buckwheat flower

Flower: Racemes or sprays of flowers 2 inches to 8 inches long stick up from the leaf nodes. The greenish-white flowers form whorls around the flower stalk. Each flower has two inner and three outer petal-like tepals. The outer ones are winged.

false buckwheat leaf

Leaf: The alternate leaves are dark green on top, light green underneath. They are mostly heart-shaped and on petioles which get progressively shorter as the leaf gets further along the vine.

false buckwheat under leaf

Stem: This vine can reach 20 feet long. The stem twines. It is round or ridged, green turning red with age, hairless or with hairs on the ridges. A tan sheathe surrounds the stem at each leaf node.

false buckwheat stem

Root: The perennial fibrous roots get fleshy.

Fruit: The small, black seed is inside the outer three winged tepals which fuse around it. The winged seeds hang down on the flower stalk.

false buckwheat fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers partial shade but tolerates full sun as long as the soil is good and enough moisture is present. It’s found along roads, yards, pastures, edges of woods, along streams and in prairies.

 

False Buckwheat

Crested Buckwheat

false buckwheat plant

False Buckwheat is one of those plants found worldwide. There are varieties of it so the population is partially the native one and partially an imported variety. The plant is not concerned and grows abundantly under the right conditions.

Numerous vines come from the rootstock. These cover the ground and any object or plant they encounter. The vines can be thick enough to blanket and smother these objects. They look light weight but are heavy enough en masse to bend small plants or saplings to the ground.

The flowers are small but make up for this with their number. The winged seed pods are pretty. Since the vines bloom for two to three months, they make pretty plants for growing on trellises.

False Buckwheat is an aggressive grower and seeds freely. The roots are persistent. In areas where the vines are mowed frequently, they will eventually die out.

Autumn Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale

The sneezeweeds are often one of the last entries in a wildflower guidebook under yellow flowers. They don’t bloom until fall is starting. Autumn Sneezeweed is easy to spot in wet areas.

 

Helenium autumnale L.

August to November                                   N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

autumn sneezeweed flower

Flower: Upper leaf nodes and branch tips put out flower stalks that thicken just under the flower head. The numerous sepals are light green, threadlike and curve upward around the center disk. Up to 20 triangular ray flowers surround the central disk. The rays range from yellow to orange and have three lobes on the outer edge. They stick straight out or slope away from the central disk. The central disk is a globular mound of yellow tube flowers.

autumn sneezeweed side flower

Leaf: Alternate leaves are sessile looking like they are part of the stem going off because of the wings. The leaves are long with a single midvein. Many, especially lower leaves have teeth. The surfaces have a dotted appearance due to tiny glands on them.

autumn sneezeweed leaf

Stem: One or several main stems grow up to 5 feet tall branching about half way up. The pale green to whitish stems are squared off and have green wings descending down from each leaf.

autumn sneezeweed stem

Root: The perennial roots are fibrous and shallow making the plant vulnerable to drought and fire.

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant likes very moist conditions preferring sunny edges of spring wetlands, ponds, creeks and lakes.

Poisonous: The plant contains a bitter lactone and can be toxic to grazing livestock.

 

Common Sneezeweed

Autumn Sneezeweed

autumn sneezeweed plant

Autumn Sneezeweed is a late blooming sunflower. It doesn’t open until the asters do, then blooms until autumn frosts drive most plants into dormancy for the winter.

This is an easy plant to identify. First, it likes growing in or near water. I find it around lakes and in wetlands.

Second, the flowers are so distinctive. No other yellow flower has the blunt triangle rays with lobes on the wide end. And the center is a pompom. For autumn Sneezeweed, the pompom is yellow.

Insects pollinate sneezeweed. The pollen doesn’t blow around making people sneeze. Where did the name come from?

Years ago Indians dried the plant. The dry leaves and flowers were crumbled in powder and used as a cold remedy snuff. This is sniffing pinches of powder. This caused sneezing.

Any of the sneezeweeds are bitter and avoided by livestock. Autumnal Sneezeweed is not a problem in any but low, wet pastures. In these it can grow in dense stands and be a problem.

Gaura Oenothera filiformis

Botanical names can be confusing. Gaura was listed as Gaura longiflora and Gaura biensis. These were combined in the new volumes of Flora of Missouri by Dr. Yatskievych so the same plants are now Oenothera filiformis.

This confusion can make people dislike using scientific names. I prefer using these as each name refers to a particular kind of plant. Plants can have more than one common name. Or a single common name can refer to more than one plant.

Yes, I still refer to most plants by their common names when talking to other people. It makes conversation easier.

Oenothera filiformis W.L. Wagner & Hoch

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Onagraceae

gaura flower

Flower: Loose groups of flowers tip the branches and arise at leaf nodes. Each flower has four upright petals with a long pistil swooping down from them flanked by four stamens on each side. A fresh flower is usually pink tinged white and turns darker pink as it ages over the day. Two pink sepals sweep back from the flower. The long flower stalk is a cylindrical ovary with a green lower section and pink upper section.

Gaura side flower

Leaf: The basal leaf rosette can be the first year’s growth or beginning of the year’s growth. It may or may not be present when the plant blooms. The stem leaves are alternate with a short, winged petiole. Small leaves can grow at the base of the petiole. Each leaf is long flaring out to the middle then tapering to a point. The wavy edges are irregular but not lobed or toothed. There is a single midvein. Top and bottom of the leaf is green, slick-looking and covered with short hairs.

Gaura leaf

Stem: One or several slender, green, hairy stems come up from the root then branch repeatedly forming a wide, leggy bush reaching five feet or more in height.

Gaura under leaf

Root: The fleshy root can be annual or biennial.

Gaura stem

Fruit: A long tube with tapered, rounded tip.

gaura fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny locations favoring pastures, glades, roadsides and open, disturbed areas.

 

Large Flowered Gaura

Gaura plant

Gaura is tall and leggy. It looks like a coordinated structure of slender, green sticks with handfuls of flowers glued on here and there. These sway in any breath of wind.

The flowers are easily recognizable with their four petals sticking up like the ribs for a fan. They fade by noon turning deep pink and folding themselves along the developing seed pod.

Although the plants grow in a variety of sunny places, I see them commonly along the roads. The leggy bushes are easy to recognize. The flowers are smaller and must be seen from closer up.

The seed pods are colorful as they develop. They turn brown when mature. The plant seeds freely.

Horseweed Conyza canadensis

So many of the plants we regard as weeds came from Europe along with the colonists and their seeds and livestock. This weed is a native American variety. Call it horseweed, mare’s tail or hogweed, it’s tall and prolific.

Very small flowers are easier to show in pairs so the front and side views are in the same picture.

Conyza canadensis Cronquist

June to November                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Astereae

Horseweed flower

Flower: The many-branched flower panicle can be 18 inches tall and spread out over 6 inches with a flame shape. Each flower is cylindrical. The half inch long cylinder is made up of dark green, overlapping bracts. From 25 to 45 white ray flowers radiate out an eighth of an inch around the top of the cylinder surrounding numerous tube flowers.

Horseweed leaf

Leaf: Alternate leaves can be so dense as to appear whorled. Each leaf is 2 – 3 1/2 inches long but less than 1/2 inch wide. There is a midvein and thick edges. White hairs stick out along the edges. Top and bottom are dark green.

Horseweed under leaf

Stem: The single stem can reach 7 feet. It is light green with white hairs. It is stiff.

Horseweed stem

Root: The annual root is a short taproot with fibrous roots.

Horseweed seeds

Fruit: The seeds are an eighth of an inch long and thin with short, white threads sticking out one end.

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun and disturbed areas such as roadsides and barnyards.

 

Horseweed

Canada Fleabane, Hogweed, Mare’s Tail

Horseweed plant

Horseweed is a native weedy species. It produces hundreds of seeds which are wind disseminated. The plants often come up in dense stands.

The young stem growing up can be mistaken for a goldenrod. Once the flower stalks appear, horseweed is unmistakable.

In poor areas horseweed can be short, only a couple of feet tall. In better soils and with enough rain, the stems can reach seven feet with massive flower heads. If you can overlook the facts that few animals other than insects eat these plants and their sheer numbers can make them a nuisance, the tall, flowering plants are impressive.

The plants seem to prefer growing along fence lines or near sheds. They can grow in shade but do best in full sun.

Wind can make a group of horseweeds seem to ripple as the stems dip down and stand back up. The stiff stems can take a lot of wind without being uprooted. It takes pressure to snap the stems.

Each plant matures, flowers, seeds and dies over a few months. New plants replace the older ones to keep the blooming time so long. The leaves yellow and drop off from the bottoms of the stems as seed heads replace the flowers until only the stalk is left devoid of flowers, leaves and seeds.

For the serious amateur botanist, check out the book The Syrian Milkweed to find out more about how plants get their names and how the process can make mistakes.

Cup Plant Silphium perfoliatum

Each summer a line of cup plants grows up along my road. There was only one cup plant the first year. The lines have gained in length and number of plants every year since. New lines of plants have started nearby.

The thick stem and massive leaves make the cup plant noticeable. Then there is the size: eight feet tall! The flowers seem so small for such an impressive plant.

The plants seem to grow slowly. Perhaps this is because they get so tall. Even the short ones are taller than I am.

The stems are stiff and difficult to pull over without breaking them. I resorted to pulling my truck over close to the ditch and climbing into the pickup bed to get pictures of the flowers.

 

Silphium perfoliatum L.

July to September                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

cup plant flower

Flower: A spray of flower stalks comes up out of the top pair of leaves. These stalks can branch. Each is tipped with a flower head of a disk of yellow tube flowers and 18 to 35 orange yellow ray flowers. The cup behind the flower is green formed by numerous bracts with pointed tips but appearing almost fused around the base of the flower head, smooth and hairless.

cup plant side flower

Leaf: The opposite leaves are large, over a foot long and nearly a foot wide at the base end slowly tapering to a point. The two leaves join together to surround the stem and attach at a swollen node forming a depression around the stem. The edges have widely separated teeth. The strong midvein holds the leaves out stiffly although the  last quarter droops down. The leaves are green on the tops and pale green underneath.

cup plant leaf

Stem: A single, unbranched stem can reach ten feet. The stem is square, ridged, with a few scattered short hairs, coarse to the touch and stiff.

cup plant under leaf

Root: The perennial roots are rhizomes forming colonies.

cup plant stem

Fruit:

Habitat: This plant prefers moist areas such as roadside ditches, moist woods and stream banks. It likes partial sun and light shade.

Cup Plant

Cup Rosinweed

cup plant

Few plants are as impressive as the Cup Plant. The inch thick stem and massive leaves rise up out of the surrounding plants then tower over them. Most Cup Plants seem to top out at seven feet. Some are shorter and a few are up to three feet taller.

Cup Plant leaves are massive. Each pair points in the opposite direction from the previous pair. The depression where the fused leaves join the stem can hold rain water.

For such a large plant, the flower heads are small, only three inches across. Larger plants can have a bouquet of them sprouting up out of the top leaves with six open at a time.

Because of the square stem and leaves at regular intervals, an old name for the plant was measuring weed. Its accuracy for measuring is questionable.

The rhizome root is perennial and puts up more than one stem in a line. The older the root, the more stems it puts up.

White four o’clock Mirabilis albida

The white four o’clock is such an elusive wildflower. The plants are not rare, although finding them requires finding the right habitat. Too often I find the plants too late to see them bloom and only see them open up to spread their seeds. The beauty of the flowers makes the hunt worthwhile for another year.

 

Mirabilis albida Heimerl

May to October                                            N                                 Family: Nyctaginaceae

white four o'clock flower

Flower: Three flowers hang on long stems from the tip of each flower stalk. The three open the same evening, but not always together. Each flower has a green cup calyx. The white to pink flower is bell-shaped with ten lobes on the flared open end. Five stamens with colored thin filaments and yellow balls of pollen stick out of the bell. A single pistil is mixed in with the stamens.

white four o'clock side flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are sessile or with a short petiole. The top is darker green than the underside. The underside has a covering of very short white hairs that cover the smooth leaf edge as well. There is a deep midvein. The leaves are much longer, up to four inches, than wide but are not narrow and have a rounded tip.

white four o'clock leaf

Stem: The single unbranched stem can be three feet tall. Flower stalks branch out at the leaf nodes, each tipped with flowers. The stem can be hairy or not. It often appears silvery or tan rather than green. It has shallow ridges on the lower portions.

white four o'clock under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial taproot.

white four o'clock stem

Fruit: Up to three seeds form a group in the center of a large, four pointed, light green to white bract. Each white to ecru seed is long and stout, covered with bumps. Each bump has a tuft of bristles sticking out.

white four o'clock fruit

Habitat: This plant likes full sun. It usually grows in poor soils such as gravel bars, glades and road cuts.

 

White four o’clock

Pale Umbrellawort, Hairy Four o’clock

white four o'clock in bloom

White Four o’clock flowers are fleeting. They open about dusk for an hour or two, then shrivel. The only way to see them is to stalk them.

I found several plants growing along the road. Every evening close to sunset I walked out to check on them. Flowers opened on several evenings, usually a few, but en masse one evening.

white four o'clock plant

Most years I find the plants, walk out evenings and never catch a flower open. The plants have already bloomed and are setting seed. More commonly the single stalk has numerous green calyxes. The lower ones begin to flare open exposing the seeds.

 

Eastern Figwort Scrophularia marilandica

The first figwort I saw was growing on a roadside near a cold water spring. The flowers were such an unusual shape and color, it caught my attention. To my surprise it turned up in Ozark Wildflowers, the last brown wildflower in the book.

That plant came up several more years until the annual brush cutting finally killed it off. However I had found another plant growing near a shed at home. that plant continues to thrive as do several others I have come across over the years.

 

Scrophularia marilandica L.

July to October                                            N                                 Family: Scrophulariaceae

figwort flower

Flower: Flowers are on long stalks both at the top of the stem and from leaf nodes on the upper half of the stem. Each flower has a cylindrical shape from the side. A green calyx with five pointed lobes surrounds the base. The five petals are light green on the outside. From the open end of the cylinder the inside of the petals is reddish brown. Two petals form a flat top. Two petals form the sides. A single wider petal that curves downward forms the bottom. Inside are five stamens. An infertile one is on the upper petals. Four fertile ones with cupped ends are over the lower petal. A single pistil hangs out dangling from the lower petal.

figwort side flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are spaced along the stem. Lower leaves have long, up to 3 inches long petioles. the petioles get shorter as the leaves get higher on the stem. Each leaf has a rounded base with a long taper to a sharp point. The edges have regular teeth. The upper surface is darker green than the under side of the leaf. The midvein is prominent on the lower surface as are the main venous branches. The midvein can have short hairs on both top and bottom sides.

figwort leaf

Stem: A single rigid, square, unbranched, green stem can be three and a half feet to eight or ten feet tall. Flower stalks go off from leaf nodes and make a loose spire at the top of the stem. The sides of the stem are curved inwardly on each side. The stem can have short hairs.

figwort under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial knotty tuber with rhizomes.

figwort stem

Fruit: The seed pod is made up of two pieces forming a globular  case around numerous seeds.

figwort fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade in open woods, ravines and creek banks.

 

Eastern Figwort

Carpenter’s Square, Late Figwort

figwort plant

Figwort plants seem to get taller every year. The lower leaves get longer, up to eight inches. this is what gets the plant noticed.

Figwort flowers are small, barely half an inch long, and easily missed. Once noticed, their unusual shape is eye-catching.

From the side a figwort flower appears green. From the front the deep reddish brown is seen. Four yellow marbles sit on the lower lip of the flower. These are the stamens.

From the side the two upper petals are flat, extending out like a flat roof over the rest of the flower. The rest of the flower hangs down from this flat roof giving the flower the appearance of a short pipe.

From the front the two upper petals have rounded, ruffled edges of deep reddish brown. The front is round and extends back inside the almost quarter inch across pipe.

The plants seem to grow singly. Once one is spotted, it comes up every year. One grows near a shed wall. The first year is was three feet tall. Ten years later it is taller than the eaves, close to seven feet tall.

Read about more Ozarks plants and animals in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Brown eyed Susan Rudbeckia triloba

Brown Eyed Susan is one of many yellow daisy type flowers blooming in the Ozarks from mid to late summer. Some are so similar, it is difficult to separate one from another or identify them with certainty.

Taking note of several things helps with identification. One is flower size, the number of ray flowers and the under side of the flower for the sepal arrangement. Another is the leaf size and shape plus any basal leaves.

Brown Eyed Susans are fairly easy to identify.

Rudbckia triloba L.

June to November                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

 brown eyed susan flower

Flower: Single flowers tip the branches and numerous stalks from leaf nodes. Each flower is one and a half inches across with six to twelve orange yellow ray flowers and central purplish brown tube flowers. These sit on a disk formed by five green, hairy bracts that arch downward.

brown eyed susan side flower

Leaf: The alternate leaves are green, thin and rough to the touch, like fine sandpaper. All the leaves may be ovate with a long, tapered point and coarse, irregular teeth. Some, mostly lower, leaves can be deeply lobed into three parts. The leaves are covered with short hairs and have three main veins. The lower leaves have a short, winged petiole while upper leaves are sessile.

brown eyed susan leaf

Stem: The stiff, green to dark red stems are covered with white hairs. The stems can reach five feet tall and have numerous branches giving the plant a bushy appearance.

brown eyed susan under leaf

Root: There are biennial to short lived perennial fibrous roots and rhizomes.

brown eyed susan lobed leaf

Fruit:

brown eyed susan stem

Habitat: This plant likes sunny areas with moist, well drained soil and are common along roads.

 

Brown Eyed Susan

brown eyed susan plant

Many of the yellow daisy type of flowers have basal leaves and stems topped with flowers. Brown eyed Susan is different.

Brown eyed Susans send up the typical tall stem but it puts out branches and more branches. These put out branches until there is a bush as much as five feet tall standing towering above most of the other plants in the area.

Each branch tip has a flower. These are small, less than two inches across, but their number makes up for this. The bush looks like yellow ornaments studding the spring green of the leaves.

Although Brown eyed Susans bloom for months, most of flowers appear in the first month. This may be different on cultivated plants where the old flowers are removed so the plant never sets seed.

The flowers are busy places. Few large butterflies visit but many small ones, bees, wasps and other insects form a steady stream of traffic. Flower spiders and assassin bugs hide among the ray flowers.

double brown eyed susan??

The flowers usually have a single row of ray flowers. I did find one plant with double flowers.