Category Archives: Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

Tiny Flowers: Shepherd’s-purse

Photo of Shepherd's-purse flowers

Now that the green season has taken hold and a handful of wildflowers are blooming, it's time again to break out Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I noticed a plant with tiny (<1/4") white flowers last week in Wells and was pretty sure I knew who I'd found. Keying out the plant confirmed my hunch.

I began by determining the plant's 3-digit code:

Flower type: 4 Regular Parts (4--)
Plant type: Wildflowers with Alternate leaves (43-)
Leaf type: Leaves Toothed or Lobed (433)*

Then, on page 4, under group 433, the key asked if the flowers were yellow (no) or white, pink, or purple (yes), and if the leaves had an arrow-shaped base, which clasped the stem (yes, though this is not well depicted in my photos) or were not arrow-shaped (no). The key then pointed to page 136.

Of the six plants described on that page, only one description fit my mystery plant. Basal leaves deeply lobed; pods triangular (to me the pods are triangular/heart-shaped). A drawing of the plant on page 150 provided visual confirmation. The plant I'd located was Capsella bursa-pastoris, known as Shepherd's-purse, a member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family.

Shepherd's-purse is a widespread, weedy species who typically grows in disturbed soil in full sun. The flowers, immature seed pods, and tender leaves and shoots are edible, especially for those who enjoy a spicy mustard flavor (boiling can reduce the flavor, if desired). The mature pods can also be used as a spice. Arthur Haines documents many medicinal uses for this herbaceous annual in Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2, 2015, p. 126-27). You can find more photos of Shepherd's-purse at GoBotany.

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

*Note: Looking at the basal leaves (instead of the stem leaves), you might wonder whether they're considered divided or toothed/lobed. Newcomb's guide accounts for this confusion by directing you to Shepherd's-purse whether you choose the former or the latter.

Bog Plants: White-fringed Bog-orchid

Photo of White-fringed Bog-orchid

Back at the bog, as Rose Pogonia blossoms began to wither, the bud-topped stalks of White-fringed Bog-orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis) were rising to the occasion. By the following week, many long-spurred, fringed-lower-lip flowers had opened, with many more on the way. Often living alongside Sphagnum moss, this acidic soil specialist prefers moist sites.

Identifying this plant was straight-forward using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Flower type: Irregular Flowers; Plant type: Wildflower with Alternate Leaves; Leaf type: Leaves Entire) and Go Botany's simple key to New England Orchids. You can find more photos of this white-flowered beauty at Go Botany. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

 

Bog Plants: Tuberous Grass-pink

Photo of Tuberous Grass-pink

A couple of days after I noticed Rose Pogonia flowering at the bog, I discovered a small patch of Tuberous Grass-pink (Calopogon tuberosus) in a small roadside wetland, rising above a carpet of flowering Large Cranberry plants. This orchid has numerous pink flowers, but just a single grass-like basal leaf, and lives in bogs, fens, meadows, and open wet swamps in all six New England states.  In fact, of the five Grass-pinks (genus Calopogon) native to the United States, Tuberous Grass-pink is the only one who grows in New England.

As with last week's orchid, I identified this new-to-me plant using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Flower type: Irregular Flowers; Plant type: Wildflower with Basal Leaves Only; Leaf type: Leaves Entire), and double checked my conclusion with Go Botany's simple online key to 25 New England Orchids. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Bog Plants: Rose Pogonia

Photo of Rose Pogonia flower

My weekly visits to the bog continue to be worthwhile. During my first July visit, a new (to me) pink-flowered plant was blooming along sections of the boardwalk. Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), whose identity I later determined, grows throughout New England in bogs and other wet habitats. The plant's stem bears a single leaf, along with a small leaf-like bract located just below the solitary flower. Apparently, stalks can be topped by up to four flowers, but of the hundred or so plants I checked, only one had more than one flower (two in that case).

I identified this bog orchid using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Flower type: Irregular Flowers; Plant type: Wildflower with Alternate Leaves; Leaf type: Leaves Entire), and double checked my conclusion with Go Botany's simple online key to 25 New England Orchids. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Note: The final photo contains a skipper butterfly who escaped my notice at the bog.

Bog Plants: Labrador-tea

Photo of Labrador Tea flowers

As Rhodora and Bog American-laurel finish blooming and set fruit, Labrador-tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) celebrates another turn of the seasons with bright white flower clusters. This bog-loving shrub's leaves, which have noticeably hairy undersides, are said to make a delicious cup of tea, but I've yet to find a large enough population to justify harvesting.

Photo of Labrador Tea leaves

Labrador-tea is easily located and identified when flowering (the rest of the year this low shrub is easy to overlook). Using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, begin by answering the basic questions to obtain a 3-digit code.

Flower type: 5 Regular Parts (5--)
Plant type: Shrub (55-)
Leaf type: Leaves Entire (552)

The key then asks if the leaves are evergreen (yes) and under 1" long (no). Bog American-laurel shares these characteristics. The key then points to page 292, where you can find this native member of the Heath (Ericaceae) family. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)