We have a small lawn on one side of the house, an open area across half of the narrow plateau between the road and a steep hill or ridge that leads down to the water’s edge (the house is built on the other half). It’s deceptively large, perhaps covering 275 square meters (perhaps 3000 square feet) based on my pacing of it, but looking like it covers only about half that. I actually went out and re-paced it after doing the calculation and finding the result to be 3000 square feet, since my initial estimate when I first looked at it was 1200-1500. But, numbers don’t lie. Supposedly.
The landlord had mowed the lawn prior to showing the house back in mid-July, so the grass was short and tidy. However, when we moved in, we found that he’d taken the lawnmower with all his other possessions when he moved out. This hasn’t bothered us a whole lot; mowing the lawn has never been one of my favourite activities, and I’d rather leave most of it to grow up and provide nicer habitat for insects and other things than a short-trimmed lawn would. We’ll need to keep the trail down to the dock clear, but the rest can be left alone.
Since it’s been about a month and a half since the lawn was last cut, many plants that some would call “weeds” but I’d classify as “wildflowers” have sprung up and started blooming. I did a quick tour of the lawn cum wildflower meadow this afternoon. I tallied up 15 species that were in bloom in this small area – pretty amazing and a solid diversity of species for a little patch of lawn. These are what I found. My identification of some of these may be off, as I had to look a lot of them up in my field guide to get the specific species – feel free to correct me if I have it wrong!
Butter-and-eggs, Linaria vulgaris. Although it may not be the most common plant or wildflower in the lawn, it’s the one that had the most blooms. It’s an introduced species, of course, just like so many of our familiar wildflowers, and tends to favour disturbed habitats such as roadsides or managed fields – the lawn would fall into the latter category.
Also abundant is Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, shown here with Cow Vetch, Vicia cracca. Both of these are also Eurasian introductions that have established themselves well in eastern North America. In the case of Red Clover, it’s been extensively planted as a hay and pasture crop because it stores nitrogen in its roots which helps to improve soil fertility when used in rotation with other crops, and has escaped into suitable meadow habitats.
Low Hop Clover, Trifolium campestre, is abundant, though not many of the plants were actively blooming. Another flower that’s been introduced from Europe, it’s frequently found in lawns and gardens and other disturbed habitats.
There’s quite a bit of this stuff about, though like the Hop Clover much of it wasn’t in bloom (it looked like it was just finishing blooming). It had me a bit puzzled at first, and I was looking initially at the mints because the leaves had a noticeable scent when rubbed. After a bit of reading I finally decided it must be Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, which is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, but not a mint specifically. Members of this family have the interesting characteristic of square stems. Unlike the previous species, this one is actually native to our area, but in the south has likely been introduced from Europe (why from Europe and not northern North America, I don’t know). Like the commercial basil, the leaves can be dried and used as seasoning, though they provide milder flavour than the commercial variety.
I believe this one is Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus. The fleabanes remind me of daisies or asters but with small flower heads with feathery-looking rays (the white petals). The group takes their name from the belief that drying the flower heads and placing them in the home could eliminate flea infestations.
This is a St. John’s Wort, I think Common St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum. It’s another introduction from Europe that has spread across much of North America. It’s considered a noxious weed in many areas because if ingested it may cause photodermatitis, an increased sensitivity to sunlight much like the Giant Hogweed, not only in people who use it for other medicinal purposes but also in animals who graze on it. You’ll see “wort” in the names of many flowers, and it’s an old english word meaning, unsurprisingly, flower. The St. John’s Worts were so named because it was believed they bloomed on Saint John’s Eve, June 24.
I went back and forth on the ID of this one, before finally settling on Wavy-leaved Aster, Aster undulatus. It’s definitely an aster, but I find all the asters tricky to tell apart from one another. Like goldenrod, I think of asters as a fall flower, punctuating the end of the summer, set against the fiery colours of the changing leaves. If I ever have a wedding I’d like it to be in September, outdoors, set among a field of goldenrod and purple asters with red and yellow maple trees as a backdrop.
Speaking of goldenrod… There are many different species of goldenrod, even though we typically just lump them into a single category and label it goldenrod when we’re thinking of the plant. Really, though, there are some goldenrod that have lots of flower stems coming straight out from the main stalk, ones that have nicely arching flower stems with the flowers set along the top, others that have flowers so bunched together they look a little like loose yellow sumac clusters. Still, they can be tricky to separate. I think the arching flower stems on these ones make it Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora, but then again, my guide only lists Nova Scotia for its Canadian range, so who knows. I should point out that because goldenrods bloom at the same time as ragweed they’re often blamed for allergies, but actually goldenrod pollen is too heavy to cause allergy problems, since it doesn’t get carried on the wind.
There are a couple patches of this fuzzy-stemmed blue flower, Viper’s Bugloss, Echium vulgare. For those keeping track, this is the third wildflower I’ve mentioned that has vulgare or vulgaris as its species name. Although we tend to think of the word vulgar as meaning ugly, back when these plants were named it actually meant common, and Viper’s Bugloss is certainly that. The name Viper’s Bugloss (the latter word meaning “ox tongue”, which the plant’s leaves were thought to resemble) actually applies to the group, not just this one species, but it’s come to be associated with this species, at least around here. It also goes by the name Blueweed, but I’ve never heard it called that. It’s yet another European introduction, and shares the same habitat preferences as the first vulgaris I mentioned, Butter-and-eggs.
Yellow Wood Sorrel, Oxalis stricta. My guide states, “This plant is a cosmopolitan weed, perhaps originally native to North America.” In other words, it’s now so widespread that they don’t know where it started out from. It’s true it’s very common, you can find it just about anywhere, from roadsides, meadows, and your own garden, growing prolifically between your other plants.
This is a familiar flower to many, Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. It’s the state flower of Maryland, and I tend to associate it with being the flower that makes up the blanket of flowers placed over the winner’s neck of the Preakness Stakes (which is run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore). Like the Kentucky Derby has come to be known as “the run for the roses” for the blanket of roses placed across the winning horse, the Preakness is sometimes called “the run for the Black-eyed Susans” – somehow just not quite as catchy.
I cheated a bit on this one, these weren’t actually on our lawn, but directly across the road. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota. It’s funny, I think of this as a widespread flower typical of our roadsides and meadows, but it’s another introduction native to Europe. It’s the ancestor of the cultivated carrot that we eat for dinner, and in fact the Queen Anne’s Lace’s long central taproot can be eaten in much the same way.
I’ve always loved the look of these. This is Bladder Campion, Silene vulgaris (another vulgaris!), so named for the distinctive bladder-like hollow balloons at the base of each flower. Another European native, the campions can be found abundantly along roadsides and in meadows throughout most of North America.
I couldn’t find this flower in my primary field guide, strangely, but believe it to be Carpet Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans. It often grows in dense mats that exclude even grass, my parents’ lawn has several patches of it. Many wildflowers have historical medical uses, long since forgotten and/or replaced by synthesized drugs; in the case of this one it was used to stem bleeding.
Finally, one last flower that I have no ID for. I’ve gone through both my field guides, and can’t see anything that seems to match quite right. It looks a little like a cinquefoil, but doesn’t have the notches in the petals that cinquefoil has. It also looks a bit like a buttercup, but none of the ones in my guide have gaps between the separate petals like this shows. So I dunno. I’m open to suggestions.
It’s quite a nice selection of flowers for a little patch of supposed lawn. I wonder what else is in there that just isn’t blooming right now.