Heal All Shows Up On Driveway

When you don’t use herbicides to kill “weeds” in your lawn, you never know what might come up. I enjoy knowing that we don’t add to the pollution that kills by indiscriminate spraying of nasty chemicals.

I also enjoy the surprise of finding new and interesting plants – and insects – that show up unannounced.

Heal All is one such plant. It appears in various places in the yard and since it can be used for a healing tea, I say, “Let it grow!”

Heal All, Prunella vulgaris, is native to North America occurring in all 50 of the United States and most of the provinces of Canada. It’s a member of the Mint family, Lamiaceae.

A voluntary weed called Self-Heal appeared at the edge of a driveway.
A voluntary weed called Self-Heal appeared at the edge of a driveway.

Another common name for heal all is common self-heal which suggests Continue reading

Indian Hemp Isn’t Smokable

With a name like ‘Indian Hemp’ somebody might think this common plant is smokable. Well, it isn’t. In fact the stuff is toxic to ingest in any form and may cause cardiac arrest!

Native Americans may have used it for various aliments, but there are no modern medical benefits. Indeed not. The sap can cause blisters in people whose skin comes into contact with it. It’s also poisonous to livestock. (Photos below taken 22 June 2014.)

Indian Hemp was found growing in the same location as wild parsnips.

Indian hemp growing at the edge of a country road.
Indian hemp growing at the edge of a country road.
Flowers, leaves and stems are distinctive in the weedy Indian Hemp.
Flowers, leaves and stems are distinctive in the weedy Indian Hemp.

Many Internet resources – and I use that term lightly – have confused Indian Hemp or Indianhemp, Apocynum cannabinum, with smokable hemp or Marijuana, Cannabis sativa. Somes sites use the term interchangeably as if they were the same plant. These two plants are not related and the only thing they have in common is that they can be used for fiber. “Indian hemp” may also be a common name used for Cannabis indica or the sub-species indica of Cannabis sativa.

Indian Hemp that we’re talking about is a member of the Dogbane family, Apocynaceae, and may also be commonly known as dogbane, common dogbane or hemp dogbane. The genus name Apocynum literally means “poisonous to dogs”, so even the name of the plant is telling us to beware.

Like so many weedy plants Indian Hemp can be found growing Continue reading

The Many Pollinators of Wild Parsnips

When reviewing the photos I took of wild parsnip I noticed that there were many insects among the tiny flowers. The odd thing was the number of different kinds of pollinators who were present.

It drew my attention to see several kinds of insects on the one type of plant. Was this because of the great taste of wild parsnip pollen? Or the fact that there were many flowers to collect the pollen from?

Here’s a series of photos that show ants, mosquitoes, flies of various kinds, bees and wasps alighting on the wild parsnip umbels.

Beetle Love on a Wild Parsnip
A little beetle love happening on a wild parsnip umbel.

Continue reading

Wild Parsnip Flowers Yellow in Umbels

Once you see what a dill weed plant looks like in flower, you’ll easily recognize other related plants as being members of the same family because of their flowering umbels.

The Carrot Family, Apiaceae, may also be referred to as the Umbelliferae or parsley family which contains several edible plants.

The flowers of Carrot Family members grow in umbels or compound umbels. Umbels contain groups of tiny flowers that have their flower stems emanating from a single point.

Wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, is a Carrot Family member that is not native to America that also flowers in umbels. It can be found growing tall at the edges of fields and on the side of the road in sunny locations. It will grow 2 to 5 feet tall and is found throughout the eastern U.S. in waste places, according to Peterson’s Wildflowers Field Guide.

Wild parsnips growing at the edge of a corn field where it meets a country road.
Wild parsnips growing at the edge of a corn field where it meets a country road.

The foliage of this alien plant is made up of compound leaves attached alternately to a thick, ridged main stem. Continue reading

Viburnum Foliage Not Like Elderberry

Comparing elderberry shrubs to viburnum shrubs in the previous post would have made a lot more sense if a photo of Viburnum leaves were included for proper identification.

The compound leaves of elderberry have 5-9 serrated leaflets.

Elderberry leaves have several pairs of leaflets with serrated edges.
Elderberry leaves have several pairs of leaflets with serrated edges.

I found a Viburnum species blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve near Halifax, PA. We can tell that this little shrub is a type of Arrowwood by the shape of the toothed leaves.

The simple leaves of Viburnum spp. are opposite and entire, toothed or lobed.

An Arrowwood shrub blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area.
An Arrowwood shrub blooming at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area. Photo taken 26 Jun 2014.

If the foliage were more closely inspected perhaps we would know if this is Northern or Southern Arrowwood. The one feature that distinguishes the two is that twigs are hairless in Northern Arrowwood, Viburnum recognitum, and velvety-hairy in Southern Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum.

Details for identifying shrubs, like their leaf shapes, degree of leaf hairiness, or the absence of hairs on small twigs, can be found in Peterson’s Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs.

Close-up views of the twigs suggest that the specimen photographed above was an example of Southern Arrowwood.

So remember, if you’re seeking elderberries the compound leaves will verify that you’ve got an elderberry shrub, while simple leaves will tell you it’s a viburnum.

Elderberry Shrubs Look Like Viburnum In The Distance

In our neck of the woods, Penn’s Woods that is, the elderberries are blooming this week. It’s time to make a mental note of where to collect some berries to make that wonderful elderberry jelly.

Elderberry shrubs are easily seen from a distance when they’re blooming. The large flowering heads are quite noticeable from afar because they measure 6 or 8 inches across, maybe more.

Flowering elderberry shrubs at the edge of a mountain stream.
Flowering elderberry shrubs at the edge of a mountain stream. Photo taken 22 June 2014.

Look at the edge of fields and near streams or water sources for elderberry shrubs.

Once you find the shrubs that are apparently elderberry bushes take a moment and verify your identification Continue reading

Bugle Was a Purple Roadside Weed

A beautifully deep shade of purple drew my attention to the flowers of Bugle. A new spring roadside weed for me!

Spikes of deep purple stood less than a foot tall but the color was so vivid that the shade of the nearby trees didn’t hide these weeds growing by a two-lane road next to the creek.

Purple spikes of Bugle grow next to a country road.
Purple spikes of Bugle grow next to a country road.
With a cluster of purple spikes one can see how this plant would look nice at the edge of a garden.
With a cluster of purple spikes one can see how this plant would look nice at the edge of a garden.

Bugle, Ajuga reptans, is alien to America and native to Europe, but you can find it growing wild in America along roadsides because it has escaped from gardens. Bugle’s tendency to form mats could make it an undesirable alien if not an invasive one.

Another common name for bugle is bugleweed, but that’s not to be confused with Bugleweed, Lycopus virginicus, a very different-looking herb native to North America that has some medicinal qualities.

Looking down on Bugle you can see how the flowers tower over the oval leaves.
Looking down on Bugle you can see how the flowers tower over the oval leaves.

Several flowers grow in the leaf axils. Flower shape is tubular and the lower central lip is long and gracefully cleft. Continue reading