Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knapweed (aka Hardheads)

Knapweed (also known as Hardheads)

Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

I first noticed this wildflower back in June or July up on Copse Hill. At the time, I was bemoaning the variety of thistle (and my lack of knowledge) and because of the shape of the flower head I chucked it into the thistle category ... to be identified later. Much later. Perhaps in the winter, I thought, I'd settle down and put a name to each one.

At around the same time I'd challenged myself to collect wildflowers for a cut flower vase. My self-imposed rule was to not use the same flower twice. This worked pretty well for about 6 weeks but by August my collection was an unlikely combination of sheep's sorrel, hazel, and knapweed.

sheep's sorrel, hazel, and knapweed

A motley crew

It wasn't pretty.

What *was* interesting was that when I picked the flowers for my vase, I realized that they weren't thistly at all. Whoa. Now that was a surprise. No prickles on the stem and smooth edges to the leaves. What *was* this thing?

To the books! It seems that the only thistle without prickles is the "Melancholy Thistle" - its drooping buds give it a sad, forlorn appearance. Melancholy thistle is supposed to be relatively common in this area so I was prepared to be convinced. Unfortunately, the buds on my specimens just didn't droop. Through one twist of fate or another, I came across a description of "Knapweed" and that seemed to be a much better fit.

A small number of knapweed plants are still blooming on Copse Hill but, like many of our summer flowers, will soon pass.

Hardheads (aka Knapweed)
October 16
Hardheads (aka Knapweed)
October 16

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bellflower Sisters

Adria Bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

Adria Bellflower

Before I tell you about the Bellflower sisters, I want to answer two questions posed to me recently about hogweed. The first is: "How tall is hogweed?" Well, judging from a particularly nice specimen that's still blooming just down the hill from St. Michael's in Pennington, hogweed is about 3-4 feet tall. It occurs to me that it's a bit odd this one is still with us; most have passed by this time of year.

The second question is a bit more interesting and was asked by one of my American friends: "Is hogweed related to Queen Anne's Lace?"

I'll confess. My first response was a horrified and blunt "Good God, NO". How could hogweed possibly be related to anything delicately called "Queen Anne's Lace"? Ridiculous! But, alas, and with all due respect to the Royal Family, my gut reaction was wrong.

I'm almost certain that my American friend was referring to wild carrot (Daucus carota). Here in England "Queen Anne's Lace" often refers (I believe) to cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). Hogweed, as we now know, is a common name for Heracleum sphondylium. Despite having completely different genus/species names, all three plants are found in the same family: Umbelliferae (think "umbrella"). This all goes to show that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.

Trailing Bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)

Trailing Bellflower

Now, on to the Bellflowers. The two sisters I have in mind I see quite often and both grow in (which I consider to be) inhospitable and unlikely places. The first is Trailing Bellflower which I find right outside my back door growing wildly in the crack along the cement. It's light blue-purple in color and while the flower is pretty, the foliage is like bad hair. There's just too much of it and I find it so hard to control that around mid-summer I hack at it with a pair of scissors. Of course, with the foliage go the flowers but it all comes back and now, almost November, it's still blooming.

Adria Bellflower is (in my opinion) the prettier sister with its deep purple petals. The photo leading off this article is of a lovely Adria that grows from a crevice my neighbor's stone wall. The sight never fails to amaze me. Somehow, seeing flowers take root and flourish in a wall of rocks is something that will always delight me. John Presland has a website dedicated to the flora of stone walls and I highly recommend it for further reading.