Category: Scrophulariaceae

  • Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

    Veronica-persica-2013-03-30-Beechview-01

    These intensely blue flowers are so tiny that we often overlook them in our lawns, but they are one of the first cheerful signs of spring. They are alien invaders, and perhaps they have caused untold damage to our environment; but it’s hard to be angry at a plant that’s both tiny and beautiful. This plant was one of a patch growing in a lawn in Beechview, where it was blooming at the end of March.

    The flowers of the Persian Speedwell have yellow centers, fading to white veined with blue, the blue predominating toward the outer edges of the petals, and giving the overall impression of a blue flower from a short distance. The leaves are roundish, sessile near the top of thestem and on short petioles below, gently toothed, somewhat hairy. The plant seldom exceeds the height of a few inches, and can often pass unmolested under a lawnmower blade.

    This description will have to do, since Gray and his contemporaries did not describe the plant. Between their time and ours it has spread to every state in the union except Hawaii and North Dakota.

  • 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:

    VERONICA [Tourn.] L. SPEEDWELL

    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.)