Category Archives: Wildflowers

Winter Plant ID: Sulphur Cinquefoil

Photo of Sulphur Cinquefoil winter stalk

About a century ago, observing Sulphur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) would have required a trip to Europe. But now this herbaceous perennial is established in fields and along roadsides throughout much of North America and as such can be studied year-round, if you know where to look.

While the plant's five-petaled, yellow flowers are of no assistance for white season identification, the numerous five-parted, hairy seed capsules, which are found at the tops of the many-branched, 2-3' tall stalks, are. These capsules account for another common name for this species: Rough-fruited Cinquefoil.

Photo of Sulphur Cinquefoil fruit capsule

The alternately arranged leaves are palmately divided (like those of Common Blackberry) into 5 or 7 leaflets (upper leaves may have only 3), and dried leaves often persist into the white season and can assist with identification efforts.

For help with keying out a mystery white season plant skeleton, I recommend A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter: Herbaceous plants of northeastern North America (1995) by Carol Levine (additional guides are listed on my Book Picks page under Winter Exploring). For more photos of Sulphur Cinquefoil, visit GoBotany.

Photo of Sulphur Cinquefoil dried leaf

Winter Plant ID: Common St. John’s-wort

Photo of Common St. John's-wort

Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a common perennial of fields, roadsides, and other open areas with disturbed soil. In June and July, the yellow flowers of this weedy species stand out (see Medicinal Weeds: Common St. John's-wort). During the white season, if not blanketed by feet of snow, the dried stalks of Common St. John's-wort can still be recognized.

Look for 2-3' tall, round-stemmed stalks with numerous, oppositely arranged, up-swept branches topped with 1/4" tall, reddish-brown, three-parted capsules containing many tiny seeds. (You might want to read that again, slowly.)

Photo of Common St. John's-wort fruit

Winter Plant ID: Black-eyed Coneflower

Photo of Winter form of Black-eyed Coneflower

Black-eyed Coneflower (Rudbeckia hirta) is a familiar flowering plant of fields, roadsides, and gardens. Flower heads feature showy, yellow ray flowers surrounding a cluster of dark disk flowers. In the white season, long after the petals have withered away, the dried stems retain their cone-shaped terminal heads. In all seasons, the stems, leaves, and bracts of Black-eyed Coneflower are coarsely hairy.

Photo of Winter stem of Black-eyed Coneflower

This perennial wildflower is also known by the common names Black-eyed Susan and Brown-eyed Susan, among others. See photos of this plant in both the green and white seasons at GoBotany.

Photo of Winter form of Black-eyed Coneflowers

Note: Many excellent resources are available to help you identify plants in their winter forms -- several are listed under Winter Exploring on my recommended resources page.

Foraging Wild Seeds: Spotted Touch-me-not

Photo of Spotted Touch-me-not

Once you've met Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) you'll likely never forget her. While the orange flowers of this plant are showy and distinct, the narrow fruit capsules are what grab my attention. Foraging teacher Russ Cohen first revealed to me the inner beauty of this species -- also known by the common name Jewelweed -- during one of his public walks. (If you've studied with Russ and met this plant, you likely know where this post is headed).

To experience the plant's seedy secret, start by locating a thriving population. Spotted Touch-me-not favors moist soils, so scan the edges of streams, ponds, and other wetlands for orange flowers. Next, look for the 1" long green capsules. Once ripe these capsules will explode at the slightest touch, so grab one carefully so as to capture the entire contents in your hand. Now take one of the newly unveiled seeds, rub off the seed coat (which is brown when mature), and witness the tiny light blue seed. I bet you didn't expect that!

If that's not impressive enough, the seeds themselves, with or without the seed coat, taste like walnuts. I've never consumed them in quantity, but enjoy snacking on a dozen or so when I happen upon a fruit-filled patch in late summer. And so long as the plant is flowering, be alert for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds who enjoy nectaring on the flowers of this widespread native annual.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Tiny Flowers: Green Carpetweed

Photo of Green Carpetweed

If you've attended a plant walk with me, you've probably witnessed my delight when crossing paths with a number of tiny flowering plants. Three of my favorite summer species are Rayless Chamomile (aka Pineapple Weed), Red Sand-spurry, and the disturbed ground, pavement-crack specialist known as Green Carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata). As with many plants, you'll need a sunny day to observe the open flowers -- in cloudy weather they tend to close up. These tiny flowers mature into a capsule that eventually splits into three parts to reveal even tinier brown seeds.

Arthur Haines* writes that the entire above-ground portion of the plant is edible, though he recommends gathering early in the growing season when the texture and flavor are at their best. I was a little late for sampling this year, but I've made a note to sample them in early June of next year.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

*Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2, 2015), page 195.