Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Interesting Weed

I'm busy creating an index of my photos of 145 different species of wildflowers, almost all found in Plumas County. My list will have common name(s), Family, Genus and Species, and eventually field notes. This information is currently scattered among several field journals and many more scraps of paper ripped from tiny pocket journals. I can't say why this particular flower, Scarlet Pimpernel, got my attention today except that it's one of the few on my list that I photographed outside Plumas County. In fact, this one was photographed in right field of Leggett Valley School's baseball field. It's snowing again in Plumas, so I decided early on that I would pull something from my archives to report on rather than take more snow photos today. I knew the plant was not native to California, so I did a little search into possibly "interesting natural history tidbits" - but that's redundant, isn't it?
First of all, this little beauty supports my frequent contention in this blog that "weed" does not equal "ugly" or "undesirable." It just means non-native. It's usually a plant that's been introduced accidentally or on purpose to a place to which it's not native. In most cases, weeds take root readily in disturbed ground. That's why most of them are found at roadsides or track sides, or on and around farms. In the case above, a baseball field. Around Leggett, I noticed that this plant, in places that were not regularly mowed, would grow a foot or more tall, and the blossoms were usually at or near the tops of the plants. However, in mowed fields, it seemed to "learn" the trick that dandelions learn everywhere. That is, to bloom below the level of the mower blades rather than grow long stems before blooming. Weeds that can do that seem to have a survival edge over weeds that can't.
When I typed Scarlet Pimpernel into my browser, 19 of the first 20 sites that appeared referred to a play and novel of that title by one Baroness Emmuska Orczy. In other words, second-rate literature trumped natural history or botany. I eventually found that the plant is said to bloom only on sunny days and will close up in anticipation of rain. Thus, in some areas, it's called "Poor Man's Weather Glass." I never noticed this trait over in redwood country because we always anticipated rain over there and were seldom disappointed. The Pimpernel did bloom sometimes, so it must have been sunny occasionally. I don't remember.
Once I located a spot where Scarlet Pimpernel bloomed, I could return on cloudy or rainy days and find it among the rest of the greenery even if it wasn't blooming. In that state, it looks a lot like Chickweed, but is distinguished by a square stem. One might initially place it in the mint family until discovering other anatomical details.
Pimpernel is probably derived from an ancient word meaning pepper. It is bitter to the taste, and can be quite toxic to cattle and people, depending on growing conditions. If not the taste, then maybe the appearance of the fruit or seeds reminded the ancients of peppercorns.
As usual, I invite the visitor to click on the flower once, then twice, in order to get closer views.

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