Category: Scrophulariaceae

  • Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

    A relative of snapdragons and Butter-and-Eggs, this cheery flower also bears a passing resemblance to a foxglove, whence both the common and scientific names. The name “Beardtongue” comes from the hairy stamen visible in each flower. The plant likes a sunny open field or clearing, although it will tolerate some shade; this plant was blooming in early June in a clearing in Scott Township.

    Most earlier botanical references spell the genus name Pentstemon, which may be more etymologically correct but apparently is not the way it was spelled in the original description.

    Traditionally, botanists placed snapdragons and their allies in the Snapdragon or Figwort family, Scrophulariaceae; but modern genetic research has led botanists to move them into the Plantain family, Plantaginaceae.

    Gray makes this species a variety of P. laevigatus, so we turn to Alphonso Wood for a description of the genus and the species more in line with the consensus of modern botanists:

    PENTSTEMON, L. Beard-tongue. Calyx deeply 5-cleft. Cor. elongated, often ventricous, lower lip 3-lobed, spreading. The fifth filament (tongue) sterile, bearded, longer than the rest or about as long; anth. smooth. Seeds numerous, angular, not margined. Perennial N. American, branching, paniculate. Leaves opposite, the lower petiolate, upper sessile or clasping. Flowers showy, red, violet, blue, or white, in Summer.

    Native E. of the Mississippi River, sometimes cultivated.

    Leaves undivided, serrulate. Sterile filament (tongue) bearded.

    P. digitalis N. Glabrous; leaves elliptic to lanceolate, the upper clasping; flowers many, large, corolla tube abruptly enlarged to bell-form, pale blue or purplish, 12—15″ long, throat widely open, beardless. Rich soils, Pa., W. and S.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

    The generic name is more correctly spelled Buddleja, but the spelling Buddleia is much more familiar to gardeners.

    This favorite butterfly-garden plant often seeds itself, and it has a particular affinity for rocky ground, which in the city translates into sidewalk cracks. In the Pacific Northwest, and in Britain (where the climate is similar to our Pacific Northwest), the Butterfly Bush is an invasive weed. Here it’s an occasional volunteer; this plant sprouted near its parent in a front yard in Beechview, where it was blooming in late September.

    The most remarkable thing about Butterfly Bush, of course, is the way it attracts hordes of butterflies. It starts blooming in July, and it keeps blooming until frost. For most of that time, it will be surrounded by butterflies, along with hummingbird hawkmoths and occasional hummingbirds.

    Flowers. White to deep violet, but most commonly in the pink range, with a distinctive orange throat. Borne in spikes at the ends of the branches.

    Leaves. Lanceolate, with small teeth; softly downy; alternate; somewhat greyish green, much paler on the underside.

    Stems. Old growth is woody and twiggy; new growth in early summer may sprout vigorously from the base and reach a height of six or seven feet (about 2 m) by July. Often dies back to the ground over winter, but just as often regrows from old branches.

  • Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

    A bumblebee stuffs its head into one of the little snapdragon flowers of Butter-and-Eggs; the plant was growing beside a sidewalk in Beechview, where it was blooming in late June.

    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.

    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.)

  • Speedwell (Veronica officinalis)

    Surely these would be some of our most treasured ornamentals if they were just a little larger. Other members of the genus Veronica find honored places in our gardens, but the tiny Common Speedwells pass unnoticed under our lawn mowers. They’re worth examining closely. Magnified, as here, they turn out to be spectacular flowers. They’re found everywhere lawn grass is found; this one was blooming in Mount Lebanon at the end of April.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:


    The lateral lobes of the corolla or the lowest one commonly narrower than the others. Stamens 2, one each side of the upper lobe of the corolla, exserted; anther-cells confluent at the apex. Style entire; stigma single. Capsule flat- tened, obtuse or notched at the apex, 2-celled, few-many-seeded. Chiefly herbs ; flowers blue, flesh-color, or white. (Derivation doubtful; perhaps the flower of St. Veronica.)

    V. officinalis L. (COMMON S.) Pubescent; stem prostrate, rooting at base ; leaves short-petioled, obovate-elliptical or wedge-oblong, obtuse, serrate; racemes densely many-flowered; pedicels shorter than the calyx; capsule obovate- triangular, broadly notched. Dry hills and open woods, Nfd. to Ont., Mich., and southw. May-Aug. (Eurasia.)

  • Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

    These stately, slender perennials have lately become favorites in the garden trade. In the wild, they grow white or yellow flowers, the white ones (var. albiflorum, according to Gray) being more common in Pittsburgh. Gardeners have bred a number of attractive pastels. The plants like to grow in a clear spot at the edge of the woods, as they did here on a hillside in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming at the end of May.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:


    Calyx 5-parted. Corolla 5-lobed, open or concave; the lobes broad and rounded, a little unequal. Style flattened at the apex. Capsule globular, many- seeded. Tall and usually woolly biennial herbs ; the leaves of the stem sessile, often decurrent. Flowers in large terminal spikes or racemes, ephemeral, in summer. (The ancient Latin name, altered from Barbascum.)

    V. BLATTARIA L. (MOTH M.) Green and smoothish, or somewhat glandular-pubescent above, slender; lower leaves petioled, oblong, doubly serrate, sometimes lyre-shaped, the upper partly clasping; raceme loose, the pedicels longer than the fruit; filaments all bearded with violet wool. Roadsides and waste places, w. Me. to Ont., and southw., local. Corolla either yellow, or (in var. ALBIFLORUM Ktze.) white with a tinge of purple. (Nat. from Eu.)

    In Wild Flowers Worth Knowing, the Moth Mullein is described thus:

    Moth Mullein

    Verbascum Blattaria

    Flowers–Yellow, or frequently white, 5-parted, about 1 in. broad, marked with brown; borne on spreading pedicles in a long, loose raceme; all the filaments with violet hairs; 1 protruding pistil. Stem: Erect, slender, simple, about 2 ft. high, sometimes less, or much taller. Leaves: Seldom present at flowering time; oblong to ovate, toothed, mostly sessile, smooth.

    Preferred Habitat–Dry, open waste land; roadsides, fields.

    Flowering Season–June-November.

    Distribution–Naturalized from Europe and Asia, more or less common throughout the United States and Canada.

    “Of beautiful weeds quite a long list might be made without including any of the so-called wild flowers,” says John Burroughs. “A favorite of mine is the little Moth Mullein that blooms along the highway, and about the fields, and maybe upon the edge of the lawn.” Even in winter, when the slender stem, set with round brown seed-vessels, rises above the snow, the plant is pleasing to the human eye, as it is to that of hungry birds.