This post could be 14,000 words long.
Or I could use 14 pictures and give them all captions that will tell you a bit about the flower pictured, then get myself back out into the gorgeous weather to experience more nature.
Yeah, that’s way better.
This particular cluster of elder flowers is only half-bloomed. Later, the blossoms will give way to tiny, purple-black berries that are a staple food source for wild birds. If you can beat the birds to them, the berries can be used to make jelly or, even better, wine!
The elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) bushes are blooming in flat topped clusters of tiny white flowers. Look for them in moist forests and at road sides.
Wild parsnip (Pastinacea sativa) from afar looks like a dusting of gold on top of tall (5-6 foot), flat elf umbrellas. Look for it in open fields and on roadsides.
The wild parsnip (Pastinacea sativa) is also in the carrot family and, therefore, resembles the poisonous water hemlock except for the gorgeous citrine flowers. Though held in the same loose umbel (umbrella-like cluster of flowers), the golden blossoms are a standout. Unfortunately, water hemlock (see below) and wild parsnip have been confused by too many people in the past, leading to human consumption of a hemlock root and deadly results.
The field thistles (Cirsium discolor) are just beginning to blossom, but the butterflies and bees have already found them. This cabbage white butterfly (Find a thistle and you’ll find a treasure trove of pollinators to study. You’ll also likely spy an American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) checking the plant for any ripe seeds, which are their main source of food; it isn’t until the thistle blooms that the goldfinches will breed – they want to be sure of a steady food source for their nestlings.
Just before I aimed my camera at this lovely patch of field thistle, a brilliantly yellow and black male American goldfinch took off from one of the stalks. The energy of his lemon feathers against the purple of the thistle was electric.
From afar, water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) looks like delicate, white, fluffy tufts. It stands about five feet tall and, though it’s related to the edible carrot, it can kill with just a nibble.
This is what a water hemlock plant (Cicuta maculata) looks like. Pretty to the eyes but not to be eaten – all parts of the plant are deadly poisonous, and it only takes a small quantity to kill a grown person. Cattle, horses, and other livestock have died from grazing on it.
A beloved summertime treat of my childhood, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is actually a non-native. Introduced from Asia, this invasive climbing vine has made itself quite at home in the USA. The only way I stop myself from being upset over the fact that it’s an invader is by realizing that this means we should drink the nectar from as many flowers as possible to prevent the plant from spreading by seed. I’m on it!
How could they name a plant this pretty “spiderwort”; I’m a gal that loves spiders and I still cringe at the “wort” part. However, etymologists tell us that the word “wort” comes from old English and, in fact, means “good”. The only association with spiders is that (to someone who had good intentions, I’m sure) the angular arrangement of spiderwort’s (Tradescantia virginiana) leaves looked like a sitting spider.
If you’ve driven on a highway lately, you’ve likely noticed that the hillsides seem covered with a lacy pink blanket. This is crown vetch (Coronilla varia). It’s a member of the pea family and a cousin of red clover (Trifolium pratense), which you might mistake it for as you whiz down the road. Crown vetch, though, was imported from Europe and used to stabilize hillsides (hence its appearance next to highways). Though it’s an invasive import, I still like it better than the other vine imported to stabilize hillsides, kudzu. Not only is crown vetch prettier, but it’s not eating the entire southeast the way kudzu is!
One more pretty poison is in blossom right now, the bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara). It is a member of the nightshade family
introduced from Europe. Europeans first colonizing the Americas were treated to two wonderful, edible members of the nightshade family, tomatoes and potatoes, which they didn’t trust at first because their experience with nightshade included the many poisonous plants of the family.
Saved the best for last! Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is, perhaps, my favorite wildflower. I just can’t get over its color – more blue than purple, more bright than pastel, delicate and powerful all at the same time. And, if that weren’t enough, the chicory root can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute (or blended with regular coffee – very popular in the deep south).
If you see a blue haze of flowers floating over a pasture nearby in the next couple of months, stop to look up close at a chicory flower – I know you’ll love it, too!