Author: Father Pitt

  • Arrowleaf Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata)

    Persicaria sagittata
    Photographed October 11.

    A member of the knotweed or buckwheat family that likes damp ground; these were growing in a swampy meadow near Wexford. It has the clusters of tiny flowers typical of the family, but the ball-shaped—almost clover-like—clusters are distinctive. The leaves are shaped like elongated arrowheads, which gives the species its name in both Latin and English.

    The plant is native to the whole eastern half of North America; curiously it is also native to East Asia.

    Arrowleaf Tearthumb
  • Purple-Stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)

    Symphyotrichum puniceum
    Photographed October 11.

    Formerly Aster puniceus. These common blue asters like slopes above streams and squishy wet ground. These grew on the bank of a brook near Wexford. They are quite variable: Britton & Brown say that “races differ in pubescence, leaf-form, and leaf-serration,” meaning that anything you say about the shape of the leaves or how rough or hairy they are has to be followed by the words “or not.” The leaves of these plants were rough and sandpapery, and the stem quite hairy. The name puniceum, or Punic (“having to do with Phoenicia”), was doubtless suggested by the deep Tyrian-purple color of the stems.

    Purple-stemmed aster
    Aster puniceus

  • Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

    Photographed October 4 on the South Side Slopes.

    Butter-and-Eggs is very common in the city, and along roadsides in the suburbs. It can sprout almost anywhere; it blooms for a long time; and it seems impervious to abuse. It’s one of our most beautiful weeds, and if it were at all rarer it would be a treasured garden flower. Father Pitt has accumulated a number of pictures of Linaria vulgaris since 2011, which was the last time we looked at this plant on this site.

    Linaria vulgaris
    Photographed October 4 in Carnegie.
    Photographed September 19 on the South Side Slopes.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    LINÀRIA [Toum.] Hill. TOADFLAX. Calyx 5-parted. Corolla spurred at base on the lower side (in abnormal specimens sometimes regularly 5-spurred). Capsule thin, opening below the summit by 1 or more pores or chinks. Seeds many. —Herbs, with at least all the upper leaves alternate (in ours), flowering in summer. (Name from Linum, the Flax, which some species resemble in their foliage.)

    Erect or ascending, with narrow entire leaves.

    Flowers yellow.

    L. vulgaris Hill. (RAMSTED, BUTTER AND EGGS.) Glabrous, erect, 1.3 m. or less high; leaves pale, linear or nearly so, extremely numerous, subaltérnate; raceme dense; corolla 2-3 cm. long or more, including the slender subulate spur; seeds winged. — Fields and roadsides, throughout our range. (Nat from Eu.)

    Photographed October 4 in Carnegie.
    Seedpods, photographed September 19 on the South Side Slopes.
    Photographed October 4 on the South Side Slopes.
  • Prince’s Feather (Amaranthus cruentus)

    Photographed September 11.

    The deep-purple forms of this plant are often grown in gardens, but they do not confine themselves to where we plant them. This one was growing out of a sidewalk in Beechview.

    If we have misidentified this species of Amaranthus, we may plead in extenuation that the taxonomy of the genus is confused, and in the USDA PLANTS database most of the other possibilities are reduced to forms of Amaranthus cruentus.

  • White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

    Photographed September 20.

    In older references this plant is Eupatorium rugosum, but the genus Eupatorium has been divided into several more manageable genera. These plants were growing at the edge of St. Michael’s Cemetery on the South Side Slopes; White Snakeroot often forms dense stands right at the border between field and forest.

    It makes bees happy.

    Here is what we wrote about White Snakeroot twelve years ago:

    One of our most decorative late-summer and autumn flowers, White Snakeroot lights up the edge of the woods and can form a perfect ornamental border around a field. Its beauty comes at a price: it’s poisonous to cattle, and the poison can be transmitted through their milk. “Milk sickness” killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother. But if you don’t have cattle, there’s no reason not to enjoy this beautiful wild native.

    As a member of the Composite family, this species is especially interesting for the way the individual little five-parted flowers are easily distinguishable in the heads. It’s a good plant for demonstrating the construction of a Composite flower to children.

    Flowers: Heads discoid (that is, with no ray flowers), in irregular flattish corymbs; flowers pure white, with protruding stamens, also white.

    Leaves. Opposite; oval, pointed, toothed, finely rough; underside with many prominent ribs; lower leaves flattish at base or almost cordate; on petioles about 1/3 the length of the leaves.

    Stem: Smooth, flexible; much branched from leaf axils; averaging about 4 feet, but quite variable and can be much taller.