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Posts Tagged ‘Wildflower’

Recently, I took a road trip around Ireland. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been with such beautiful scenery and so many different landscapes, it was perfect for a travelling naturalist!

While in Galway, I saw this flower growing on the Spanish Arch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Arch).

 

Red Valerian, Galway, Ireland in July

Red Valerian, Galway, Ireland in July

I love flowers that can grow in any odd space, and this one certainly could. It was perched about halfway up, it doesn’t seem to have much of a foothold of dirt, but it is flourishing nonetheless! You can see here the hot pink head of tightly packed flowers. The Red Valerian is originally from the Mediterranean but can now be find places such as Ireland, not only in the wild but it is a garden perennial as well. I thought it might be more of a shrub than a wildflower because of the thick wooden stem holding on to the rock, but apparently it is a ‘subshrub’ and will be shrublike if it needs to be.

Listed as a member of the Valerian family in my Collins Pocket Guide (1996 edition), I just read on Wikipedia that Valerian is now considered part of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliacea). Flowers in this family have leaves opposite and small flowers with 5 joined petals.

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Over the weekend, I went walking in the woods in central Sweden. When we crossed a small dirt road I came across some lupines in full bloom.

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

The Swedish name is quite similar to the English name, they’ve just added ‘blomster’ which means ‘flower’ to the front of it.  But where does ‘lupine’ come from? Lupine (or lupinus, its Latin name) means ‘of wolves’. According to wikipedia, there could be 2 possible reasons for having this name. One reason could be that because of the plant’s toxicity, it killed livestock like wolves do. Another explanation for the name comes from the belief that lupines suck all the nutrients from the soil killing the things around it, like wolves kill livestock. In reality, lupines return much needed nitrogen to the soil, and maybe just got this name because it is often found in waste areas where there is not much else growing (like sandy roadsides).

This plant has the skull and crossbones next to it in my Edible Wild Plants book – even though lupines have pea-like flowers, they cannot be substituted for peas! They contain a poisonous alkaloid and should not be consumed.

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

Lupine, Central Sweden, September

I love getting up close and noticing the intricacies of the flower. They look blue from afar but actually have a bit of purple and white on them as well. They are most commonly a bluish-purple but can vary in color from white to pink. Apparently a lupine population will shift from multicolored to blue over time, this is because the genes for blue color are dominant and the white or pink genes are recessive.

All the resources I have on wildflowers say that this plant blooms June-July, but I saw it going strong in mid-September in Sweden! I am not sure what species this was, but most sources say these can be garden escapes and not originally wild. That being said, all lupines found in Europe have technically already escaped, since they originally came from North America in the 1800’s. I have seen these beautiful flowers along the highway in New England – what a sight to see on a stretch of nothing much else.  I have a special place in my heart for lupines because I grew up with the book ‘Miss Rumphius‘ by Barbara Cooney. If you are a lover of nature and flowers and the world’s beauty, you will enjoy this children’s book.

An excerpt:

‘When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live by the sea’

‘That is all very well, little Alice’ said her grandfather, ‘but there is a third thing you must do.’

‘What is that?’ asked Alice.

‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful,’ said her grandfather.’

And Alice Rumphius goes on to travel the world and spreads Lupine seeds to make the world a more beautiful place.  Dear reader – whoever you may be – when you see a lupine, or any flower for that matter, remember that you should go out and do something to make the world a more beautiful place! But don’t spread lupine seeds – they are alien to Sweden and may threaten native flora by taking over their habitat.

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In August in Maine, I found this white flower growing on the edge of a marsh.  The flowers branch off delicately from one stalk and have 3 roundish waxy-looking petals. This species appears to be the grass-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) because I think these leaves were lance-like or grasslike, although I didn’t get a picture of them.  Other arrowheads have arrowhead-shaped leaves, which is where this family of flowers gets its name.  This could be a broad-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) which is the most common species and leaves can be variable (arrowhead-shaped and lance-shaped leaves within the same species) but I am unsure.  Arrowheads are aquatic and grow near pond edges in quiet, shallow water.

Grass-Leaved Arrowhead, Southern Maine, August, 2011

Grass-Leaved Arrowhead, Southern Maine, August, 2011

Another name for this plant is “Duck Potato”.  Small 1-2 inch potato-like tubers form at the ends of long subterranean runners that originate at the base of each plant.  You can use these tubers like a potato. Gather them by freeing them from the mud with a hoe or rake and collect them as they float to the water’s surface. According to my “Edible Wild Plants” Peterson Field Guide, these tubers are unpleasant raw but taste very good when cooked.  Collect them in the fall to early spring.  Maybe I will try to find some now that it is fall!

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