Petunias are showy members of the tomato family grown as garden flowers, and like many garden flowers they have become semi-wild denizens of our city. The wild ones are usually pink or white. This plant was growing from a sidewalk crack on the South Side. The garden petunia is a hybrid of Petunia axillaris and Petunia integrifolia, but the hybrid comes true from seed, although the wild seedlings generally lose the more spectacular variations of the cultivated hybrids.
A common garden shrub that has become something of a pest, invading hedges especially, from which it is very difficult to extricate. Perhaps the best solution is to let the Roses of Sharon take over the hedge: they make a good, dense hedge themselves, and they have beautiful flowers in a number of different color combinations. In Pittsburgh they happily bloom well into October if the weather cooperates. The typical Mallow-family column of stamens sheds huge amounts of pollen, and these flowers are favorites with bees; below is a bumblebee drunk on pollen.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
HIBISCUS. Calyx involucellate at the base by a row of numerous bractlets, 5-cleft. Column of stamens long, bearing anthers for much of its length. Styles united, stigmas 5, capitate. Fruit a 5-celled loculicidal pod. Seeds several or many in each cell. —Herbs or shrubs, usually with large and showy flowers. (An old Greek and Latin name of unknown meaning.)
Calyx herbaceous, not inflated about the capsule; perennials.
Shrub with rhombic-ovate glabrous leaves.
H. syrìacus L. (SHRUBBY ALTHAEA of gardens.) Tall shrub, smooth; leaves rhombic- or wedge-ovate, pointed, cut-toothed or lobed; corolla usually rose-color. Established in thickets and by roadsides, N. J., Pa., and southw. July-Sept. (Introd. from Asia.)
Also known as Cheeses, because the seedpods look like tiny wheels of cheese. This little mallow grows in yards and vacant lots all over the city. Its flowers are small, but up close are obviously similar to Rose of Sharon, Hollyhock, and other members of the Mallow family. The blooming season is very long, and can last into the winter if the weather is warmer than average. These plants grew in Beechview, where they were blooming in early July.
Gray lists this species as M. rotundifolia:
MALVA [Tourn.] L. MALLOW. Calyx with a 3-leaved involucel at the base, like an outer calyx. Petals obcordate. Styles numerous, stigmatic down the inner side. Fruit depressed, separating at maturity into as many 1-seeded and indehiscent round kidney-shaped blunt carpels as there are styles. Radicle pointing downward. (An old Latin name, from the Greek name, malache, having allusion to the emollient leaves.)
Flowers fascicled in the axils.
M. rotundifòlia L. (COMMON M., CHEESES.) Stems procumbent from a deep biennial root; leaves round-heart-shaped, on very long petioles, crenate, obscurely lobed; petals twice the length of the calyx, whitish; carpels pubescent, even. —Waysides and cultivated grounds, common. (Nat. from Eu.)
One of our most beloved wild flowers, the Purple Coneflower is at the eastern edge of its native range here; but ornamental plantings have made it a common sight, and from those ornamental plantings come seeds that reinforce the wild population. Up close, the vivid red-orange of the disk florets is as striking as the bright pink-purple of the rays. The flower heads are very attractive to bumblebees.
This is the Echinacea so much prized by herbalists for its supposed use against colds.
Gray describes the genus (which he lists as Brauneria) and the species:
BRAUNÈRIA Neck. PURPLE CONE-FLOWER. Heads many-flowered; rays mostly drooping, pistillate but sterile. Bracts of the involucre imbricated, lanceolate, spreading. Receptacle conical, the lanceolate carinate spiny-tipped chaff longer than the disk-flowers. Achenes thick, short, 4-sided; pappus a small toothed border.—Perennial herbs, with stout and nearly simple stems naked above and terminated by a single large head; leaves chiefly alternate, 3-5-nerved. Rays rather persistent; disk purplish. (Named, it is said, for Jacob Brauner, a German herbalist of the early part of the 18th century.) Echinacea Moench.
Rays purple, rose-color, or rarely white.
B. purpurea (DC.) Britton. Stem smooth, or in one form rough-bristly; leaves rough, often serrate; the lowest ovate, 5-nerved, veiny, long-petioled; the others ovate-lanceolate; involucre imbricated in 3-5 rows; rays 15-20, dull purple (rarely whitish), 2.5-4.5 cm. long or more. (Echinacea Moench.) — Prairies and banks, from w. Pa. and Va. to Mich., Ia., and southw.; reported as adventive eastw. July.
The USDA PLANTS Database does not record this species as wild in Allegheny County, but there are a lot of things the USDA doesn’t know. There was a substantial patch here in the Allegheny Cemetery, obviously not planted deliberately, though it may well be descended from White Stonecrop planted elsewhere in the cemetery.
Like our other species of Sedum, this one is a low succulent plant with starry flowers. It is easily distinguished from Goldmoss (Sedum sarmentosum) by its white flowers held aloft in clusters on stems well above the plant. Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) also has white flowers, but in arching branches intermingled with leaves rather than in clusters above the plant.
This plant was not well established enough in Gray’s time to make it into his Manual, but our description here should make it easy enough to identify.