Flowers in my lawn

Yard full of wildflowers

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

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.

Cow Vetch, Vicia cracca, and Red Clover, Trifolium pratense

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

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.

Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare

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.

Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus

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.

Common St. John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum

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 areasĀ  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.

Wavy-leaved Aster, Aster undulatus

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.

Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora

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.

Vipers Bugloss, Echium vulgare

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

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.

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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.

Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota

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.

Bladder Campion, Silene vulgaris

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.

Carpet Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans

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.


Flowers for my mother


Today is Mother’s Day. I’m at my parents’ today, visiting with my mother and other family members. I bought my mom flowers, though not the cut sort that die shortly after bringing them home. It’s a nice hanging basket, with a variety of blooms planted in it. I’m not sure what they all are, but I thought they were pretty, and it would be something she could enjoy throughout the summer.


I definitely owe a lot to my mom. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her, and I don’t mean that in the reproductive sense (although that’s obviously also true). Rather, me, sitting here in front of this keyboard, sharing observations on The Great Outdoors – I wouldn’t be here.


My mom has been a great formative influence on me through my whole life. The decisions she’s made have affected me and my career path since before I was even born. If I had grown up in town, I undoubtedly would not have developed the interest in nature that I have today. It’s because of my upbringing in the countryside – exposed to, and in fact encouraged to play in, the mud, water, grass, snow – that my appreciation of the outdoors was cultivated early. I likely took interest in my high school biology classes, and subsequently followed that interest to university, because of this.


It was because of mom that I happened into birds. She had returned to school after having us three kids, pursuing a university degree that she had long wanted to obtain – at first just part-time, while we were still young, then finished off her undergraduate once we were all older and more independent. Following this she went on to complete a Master’s degree (which I admire her for), where she, as an older student, came to be friends with the then-professor of ornithology. She worked on a few projects with him, and through his connections learned of an opportunity to do fieldwork with birds that would be perfect for me, a student looking for a field job in my first year of university. At the time I was undecided about my focus of study. “Birds,” I thought, “birds are cool, I could do birds.” And I’ve never looked back.


She’s been incredibly supportive of the developments in my career. She encouraged me to follow opportunities I might otherwise have passed up. She’s supported me in my decisions, cheered me on from the sidelines. Both my parents have pushed us to really pursue our own dreams and desires, rather than theirs, or society’s. For that I’m grateful. None of us three kids are in a typical career of the sort you usually hear kids say when asked what they want to be when they grow up (this was evident early; I don’t remember what I wanted to be at age 6 or 8, but my sister wanted to be a pony).


My mom was there virtually every day during the week and a half I recovered in the hospital from my surgery. She would come, keep me company. We would gather up my various contraptions and tote everything down to the elevator so I could sit in the glass atrium and enjoy the airyness and the sunshine. My entire family would have liked to have been there, but it’s hard to put life on hold if things aren’t serious, and once I was moved to a regular room, Mom became their ambassador. This sort of always-there-for-us manifests itself in everything she does for us girls, and there is much we would not have been able to accomplish, or that would have been much more difficult, were it not for her support.


From Mom I have got my curiosity. I have learned to strive for what one desires. Not to let others make decisions for you. To have opinions, and stand by them, but to always be open to learning more. To participate, to give back, but not to sacrifice yourself and who you are. I have learned that you are your most valuable asset.


Tomorrow I am going with her to help her with an outdoor education class she’s running for a local group. We’re returning to the pond of yesterday’s post; while she has half the students at the pond studies part of things, I’ll take the rest down the trail to look at the forest ecosystem. I haven’t yet decided what to look at specifically, but will probably focus on wildflowers – eyecatching and pretty in a way many other things aren’t, to a group of non-naturalists. This selection are from our visit there last week. I do know the name of some of these, but not all. Surprisingly, my mom doesn’t have a wildflower guide (or it may be packed away), and I had the post all drafted up before realizing that. I will need to label these once I return home and can double-check them.