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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Familiar to many people as a spreading plant of lawns and fields, Glechoma hederacea is another so-called weed worth having a relationship with. Commonly known as Ground-ivy or Gill-over-the-ground, this adaptive perennial has all the features we've come to expect from a member of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family:
- irregular flowers (that are bilaterally symmetrical)
- opposite, simple leaves
- and square (4-sided) stems
Like many Mints, Gill-over-the-ground is strongly aromatic due to the presence of a volatile oil. According to David Hoffman, an infusion or tincture of the dried flowering stems of Glechoma hederacea "may be used to treat catarrhal conditions whether in the sinus region or in the chest."¹ Jenny brewed me several cups of Gill-over-the-ground tea this spring, as she thought it would help with some ear congestion I was having. It did seem to help unclog my ears, but even when my symptoms faded, I still requested the drink because I enjoyed the flavor. Though Hoffman specifies using dried plant material, we used freshly picked tops.
Though not native to North America, Gill-over-the-ground is now widely established, absent only from a few states in the southwest.² To view the following images in full-size, click here.
Square stem and opposite leaves in June
Flower and red-tinged leaves in late April
A frosty patch in late April
A handful of spring tops for tea
An unmown patch in June
Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) on Gill-over-the-ground
¹Holistic Herbal (1990), p. 205 [plant listed as Ground-ivy (Nepeta hederacea)]
²USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=GLHE2, 23 June 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA