Thursday, July 29, 2010

Garden Privet

Garden Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)

Garden Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)

Have you ever had a favorite smell take you back to a long-forgotten memory? You know, something you don't smell very often but when you do it brings to mind some event from long ago. Fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies makes me think of baking with my mom. A now-empty perfume bottle reminds me of Dewey Lewis, a high school classmate who brought me a gift from his trip to France. The smell of dirty socks evokes another, a sack of forgotten potatoes - yes that too. I'll think of others.

My favorite smell:memory is without a doubt the Linden tree. I remember sitting in the shade of a huge Linden tree - its fragrance was subtle but stunning. This was in Glenmoore Pennsylvania and I was with my husband and son; we were watching a Little League game. It was one of life's perfect moments.

All of this leads me to the Garden Privet for which I have no specific associated memory - just a good feeling. The smell is unmistakable and more lovely, I think, than any rose. The hedge is alive with bees when Privet is blooming and the gentle hum is surprisingly soothing.

How do I know?
Confidence level: ★★★★☆
Habitat: Hedge along pastures; near homes.
Leaves: shiny, smooth, no rough edges
Stem: round, not hairy
Insects observed: BEES
Flower: white
Bloom: July

There are really only two choices: Wild Privet and Garden Privet.

Ovate leaf shape Lanceolate leaf shape Ovate or Lanceolate?  That is the question.

Wild Privet has lanceolate leaves and minutely hairy 1st year twigs.
Garden Privet has ovate leaves and young shoots are glabrous (hairless).

The photo looks like lanceolate leaves to me but the young twigs are hairless. Even with my glasses AND a magnifying glass they appear hairless. So go figure.

A Hedgerow of Garden Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) A Bee visiting Garden Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Woody Nightshade

Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

It's an overcast and misty Tuesday. Cooper and I took her favorite walk, through Loppergarth, past the Cowran Estate with its Scottish Highland Cattle, and up to Lindal. She likes it because at one point there's a gate leading to a field of rare-breed pigs. They're huge. She'll stand there, watch them, listen to their snorts.

This walk is a favorite of mine too because of the Woody Nightshade (aka Bittersweet). I think I cover, more or less, 10 miles of countryside walking the dogs on a regular basis and I've only found Woody Nightshade in this one spot - just before Lindal where we turn to retrace our steps for home. I always stop to admire the purple and yellow. I've tried many times to take a good photo but somehow the pictures don't do it justice.

Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Leaf may have 2 small basal lobes
Woody Nightshade is like an ivy or like goosegrass in that it seems to like to grow over the other shrubs in the hedge. There don't seem to be tendrils; it's just that the stem is sturdy enough to support the upward growth - just enough - so that it settles into the hedge.

Looking carefully, I noticed a cluster of green berries. They're said to contain a toxic substance (solanine). A bit too much like its sister Deadly Nightshade (which is of course deadly).

I realized at that point, at the turnaround, that it would be tough going to find the blossoms for a fresh vase of cut flowers - it is Tuesday, after all. Herb-Robert is still blooming, along with nettlewort, red campion, and meadowsweet. But nothing new - nothing abundant enough or suitable for a vase. Certainly not the Nightshade.

How do I know?
Confidence level: ★★★★★
Habitat: Hedgerow between road and pasture (sheep)
Leaves: Cordate (broad base with pointed tip; lower (larger) leaves may have 1 or 2 rounded lobes at base)
Stem: slender, ivy-like, woody
Insects observed: none
Flower: two-tone: purple/yellow; 5 pointed purple petals bending back toward stem / central yellow cone
Bloom: July
Odor: none
Fruit: green berries (July)

Woody Nightshade Woody Nightshade berries

Monday, July 26, 2010

Common Ragwort

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Today did not start out well.

I don't often hear from my brothers or sisters but I did get a message this morning. It was from my older brother. He had written a brief missive earlier in the year that went something along these lines:
Found squirrel in your house. Poop everywhere. Living room curtains shredded. Cornered him in your bedroom. Killed with baseball bat.

I don't like messages from that brother.

This morning's surprise was accompanied by a photo of what was once my yard and is now a jungle. It went something like this:
Sassafras seedlings have taken over your lawn and gardens. Okay if I poison?

It can be really difficult to be an ocean away from my family, friends, and home - especially when news like this makes me want to take the first flight back to the states to put things right. I can't imagine spraying poison anywhere near my flowers or vegetable garden and hope that someone will make the effort to cut back the sassafras, keep it cut back, and leave poison out of it.

The English countryside has its calming effects but even after a walk with the dogs, the best I can come up with today to write about is Ragwort.

I first noticed Ragwort on Walney earlier this month. I'm seeing more of it on my walks here in Pennington but it's not common. A beautiful yellow but not much else going for it.

I keep thinking about a conversation that took place last week. I was asked about the difference (if any) between "knowledge" and "information" and somewhere in the chit-chat this rhetorical question was posed: "How do you know?"

It didn't seem much to me at the time but that simple question has risen to the top of my consciousness more than once or twice since. Indeed. What a great way to assess the difference between fact and opinion. How do I know? How do I know that the plant I encountered was a Common Ragwort? There was no accompanying label. There are plants that look quite similar with yellow daisy-like flowers and green toothed leaves. How do I know?

That prompts me to think about the purpose of this blog and that is simply to remind me of my travels and the flowers along the way. It doesn't matter to me that I'm not an expert at identifying wildflowers. But it would be helpful to me to detail other identifying characteristics that aren't always apparent in a photograph or two. Things like habitat, time of year, type of stem, smell, and so many other things that distinguish one species from another. If I did that, I'd be a bit more confident about my identification skills. (For example, in determining a species of St. John's Wort it's helpful to look at the stems - are they square? That's not easy to assess from a photograph.)

So I'll begin today.

How do I know?
Confidence level: ★★★★☆
Habitat: Roadside along pastures (cattle, horses); within 1/4 mile of coast.
Leaves: Pinnatifid (shape is like pinnatisect but not as deeply cut to the midrib)
Stem: round, not hairy, upright, top half is branched
Insects observed: soldier beetles
Flower: composite, bright yellow
Bloom: July
Odor: none

Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) Soldier Beetles snacking on Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Update 27July2010
: Last night at the theatre we watched "Inception" which brought to mind the "How do you know?" question (again). Perhaps the juxtaposition isn't between fact and opinion but between reality and dreams.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

I've left it too long.

I've wanted to write a bit about the Elders and other things got in the way.

Elder is one of many plants used in the dense hedgerows that keep the livestock in the pastures and the cars and tractors on the road. When Hawthorn stops blooming in late May, Elder takes over so seamlessly that if I wasn't paying attention I wouldn't have noticed. Now, with July in full swing, the Elder has faded and the hedges are solid green with no more splashes of white.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

Ground Elder is like Elder's little sister. It's not a shrub at all but a much smaller plant, growing to about a foot or bit more in height. It seemed to bloom at the same time as Elder and the flowers of both are very similar although I think Ground Elder has a whiter white. It wasn't uncommon to see Elder in the hedge blooming wildly with Ground Elder, underneath, just as comely. Ground elder was superb as a cutting in my flower vase (unlike its uncooperative big sister).

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

This past week, local sheep have been clipped, marked, sprayed, and had a foot bath. [Sounds a bit like a trip to the spa.] They're all now back in the fields, looking spiffy albeit with a big splash of red on their backsides. Next on the farmers' list of chores was to trim back the hedges along the roads. And that trimming was what put the end to a particularly lovely section of ground elder.

Now, their seasons are over and my attention turns to other lovelies.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mystery - July

Mystery of the Month (July)


One of the things that I love about this project is that just about every day I notice something new.

Today's surprise is just the cutest thing. There are about 20 or so scattered plants just past the cow barn along the road just before Loppergarth. They're striking in that each leaf has a spot in the center and it's shaped like a heart. They're all that way. Not quite blooming but just starting something that looks pink.

Usually I take a few snapshots hoping that I'll be able to identify whatever-it-is later. That identification process, for me, is always fun but neither easy nor quick. Most of my photos don't get posted right away (or at all).

That's the feeling I have about this one. I have no idea how to start. Not much of a flower. Leaf with brown spot. It looks familiar; like something I might have pulled out of the garden as a weed perhaps? But I'd have left it there with such interesting leaves.

Anyway, these are just too wonderful to keep to myself. I'll update later with a name if I ever discover what it might be.

Mystery of the Month (July) Mystery of the Month (July)

Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)

Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)

Update July 15: EUREKA!

I've picked up a couple of new books and one of them, The Concise British Flora in Colour, is just wonderful. It has the most delicious illustrations of plants and I really enjoyed paging through ... and there it was! The mystery plant! Labeled as Polygonum persicaria (in 1965) but the Latin name these days seems to be Persicaria maculosa. Common name is Redshank and here's a site with more info.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum)

Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum)

I gave Dave a little test yesterday. I showed him this photo and asked him if he thought it looked like "Rose of Sharon".

He looked puzzled.
Don't we have Rose of Sharon growing at home in our yard [back in Connecticut]?
Yes, we do.
Isn't it a tall shrub with pink flowers?
Yes, it is.

The current Wikipedia entry for Rose of Sharon states:
... The name's colloquial application has been used as an example of the lack of precision of common names, which potentially causes confusion.
No shit, Sherlock.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

So, in the States, "Rose of Sharon" is used to refer to Hibiscus syriacus, a large woody shrub with large pink/purple flowers.

In the UK, "Rose of Sharon" is used to refer to Hypericum calycinum, a smaller shrub with bright yellow flowers.

What, I wondered, do Americans call Hypericum calycinum?
Aaron's Beard or St. John's Wort

And what do the British call Hibiscus syriacus?
Beats me. It's not in any of my four books (I bought another one today). Hibiscus isn't listed at all. Weird, huh? Not even the monstrous 700 page (over 1,900 species) Collins Flower Guide [THE MOST COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FLOWERS OF BRITAIN AND IRELAND] has Hibiscus listed. A quick look at Google results suggests that it might be called "Tree Hollyhock". Maybe Hibiscus is just not all that common in the UK.

Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum)

Growing on a stone wall

And the point of all this is to show me, yet again:
Why there are Latin names for these plants and Why I should pay more attention to those Latin names and Why I shouldn't get my knickers in a knot over the common names.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lesser Stitchwort

Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

I had this one misidentified at first. For some reason, I thought it was "Greater Stitchwort" but I came across it again this morning, along the road just short of the Cowran Estate (with its rheas and Scottish Highland Cattle), and plucked a strand to take a closer look when I got home.

It's impossible to tell from the photos here but the leaves of Lesser Stitchwort are much shorter (less than 4cm ~ about 1 inch) as compared to Greater Stitchwort (between 4-8cm). [All that foliage in the photo is from neighboring grasses which help support the Stitchwort.] Taking a magnified view of the flowers ... petals and sepals are roughly the same length.

Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea)

Growing in the grass
The reason I like the Stitchwort so much is that I only notice it in this one spot where the grass is allowed to grow taller along the side of the road. There are usually cows or sheep in the field and it's a restful place.

I've found that it's helpful to have more than one source to use for identification. My first choice, my little Collins Nature Guide (color-coded), lists only the Greater Stitchwort (which was probably the reason for my earlier misidentification). Next, I'd try my favorite, Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain, which has excellent illustrations and really fun-to-read entries. And that would lead me to the authoritative (and not so much fun) Collins Flower Guide [still mostly mumbo-jumbo to me]. These three books are not enough! So I've ordered four more.



Saturday, July 3, 2010

Goat's Beard

Goat's Beard (Tragopogon pratensis)

Goat's Beard (Tragopogon pratensis)

Goat's Beard joins many of the flowers in South Walney in that I haven't noticed it on my walks around Pennington. The walks are similar, both follow narrow lanes, but there's obviously something quite different. Don't ask me what. More horses there maybe?

The Goat's Beard wasn't blooming but drew my attention because of the monstrous-sized fluff that looked like dandelion, just much larger. You know, it seems silly almost to write about it when there are so many other plants to write about. But it serves as a reminder to me that plants are out there in all walks of life and even though the blooming phase may be the most fun, the others are just as interesting and we can still identify plants (some of them anyway) without the lovely blossoms.

And this reminds me of a story I wanted to tell about finding a shriveled-up plant in the pocket of my red flannel shirt yesterday. It was beyond recognition which was sad. But *that* reminded me of another story of a time when I was working in the library at West Chester University. It was lunchtime; I was hungry. I didn't bring my lunch that day. In desperation, I searched through my pocketbook and was delighted to find a small plastic bag. Unfortunately, the bag contained cat feces which I'd intended to drop off at the vet's office a couple of weeks earlier.

You can tell alot about a person by what's left forgotten in their pockets.

And so, back to Goat's Beard. I've been having fun reading through a book by Edward Step, F.L.S. [whatever F.L.S. means] called: Wayside and Woodland Blossoms: A Guide to British Wild Flowers (1941). In it he says that "one of the folk-names of this plant [Goat's Beard] is 'John-go-to-bed-at-Noon,' which is one of the few examples of a British plant name that is a sentence of six words."

He goes on to say that it doesn't quite beat the record set by the pansy: "... in north-west Lincolnshire the pansy is called 'Meet-her-i'-th'-entry-kiss-her-i'-th'-buttery.'"

I think I may start a list of folk-names.

And so, back to Goat's Beard. If I understand Edward Step correctly, the reason why the Goat's Beard wasn't blooming was because the flower opens at four in the morning and closes by noon.

Now that gives me another reason to go back to Walney. Earlier in the day next time!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rosebay Willowherb

Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)
Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)

On my trip to Walney, I went looking specifically for Purple-loosestrife. Yellow loosestrife is gorgeous and I really wanted to find the purple version. Never mind that the two aren't even related [I didn't know that at the time]. According to my books, they looked the same (except in color) and ... I assumed ...

So what was it that drew me back to Walney? What did I see that I thought was Purple-loosestife?

Turns out that it was Rosebay Willowherb. A wispy beautiful blowing-in-wind pink/purple that seems to like to grow in large patches away from the side of the road. It's quite a bit like Yellow Loosestrife in that way. I've never seen just one by itself. And never in the narrow spots between a road and the hedge. Seems to need a bit more space than that.

July is definitely its month.

Rosebay Willowherb
Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)

Update July 12: As I sit at my desk at look out the window, I can see a large patch of Rosebay Willowherb. It would take me at least 5 minutes to walk there from the house and, even then, I wouldn't be able to get to it easily as it's behind fences in an overgrown field. I love that I can recognize it from here.

Rosebay Willowherb view from my window
View from my window

Update July 13: Some books show this to be Epilobium angustifolium; others use the name Chamerion angustifolium. I followed the Collins Flower Guide and used the latter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

South Walney Blitz

Walney Island is a special treat for me. There's the beach with beautiful round smooth stones of all colors, lots of paths for exploring, and a couple of wildlife protection areas. I wouldn't have thought that the wildflowers would be quite so different there as it's only a 10 mile drive from the house.

Maggie (my dog) and I decided to take a long walk, following the narrow road south, from the beach in the center of Walney Island to the entrance of the trailer park (and well before the bird sanctuary on the island's southern tip). I was still on the lookout for purple loosestrife but didn't really expect to see so many other unfamiliar faces.

Before it was over, I captured tons of photos and will post the best of each type of plant here as soon as I can identify it. Sea kale and common mallow are among my favorites. Plants that I didn't see (which are common here in Pennington) include yellow loosestrife and foxglove. Purple loosestrife: it's still on my MIA list.

Sea-kale (Crambe maritima)Sea-kale (Crambe maritima)
Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)
Update July 1: I heard on the radio that "Walney Island" may be more appropriately be referred to as "Walney" as the former is redundant. One source states:
The Norse term for "island" was known to be "ey", "ay", "ai",  which seems to 'with little doubt' make the suffix of Walney, so what about the that the remaining "Waln"? again if you were to maintain the Norse theme then it can be questionable that "Wal-Ney" was originally know as "Vogn-ey", meaning that of "Island of the Killer Whale", which ironically is the way in which Arthur Evans describes Walney Island [in LOST LANCASHIRE].