04 October 2011

Winter Weeds and Nature Walks

While perusing the Montana Natural History Center shelves a few days ago, Allison and I found a spectacular book all about the plants of Montana in the winter. Let the weather gods know that this does not mean we were hoping for the winter weather to come as of yet; but the plants are dying back and are sometimes difficult to identify at this point. 

Well, my curiosity got the best of me, and I checked the book out to take on a self-guided nature walk through Greenough Park. 

Here's what I found:

Dock (Rumex crispus)
 "You can recognize Dock by its dried, three-winged, heart-shaped sepals, which hang in dense umbrella-like clusters from the stems...As is characteristic of the Buckwheat family, Dock has wraparound leaf scars." (p. 70)
Curly Dock is a beautiful dark reddish-brown right now, and even though it's not a particularly pretty weed (and definitely not a desirable one--its seeds are viable for upwards of 50 years!), it catches afternoon light wonderfully in its dry, lacy sepal skeletons.
Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca)
 "This is a tall perennial which grows up to four and a half feet. The calyx-tubes [fused sepal structures] are arranged in whorls around the square stem, and they are fiercely toothed....Motherwort was introduced from Asia as a home remedy and has now escaped to waste places, gardens, clearings, and roadsides." (p. 146)
Motherwort is in the mint family, and is known for it's use by midwives as well as for use to pacify the nervous system. At this time of year, the contrast of green stem to red-brown calyx-tubes is nice to look at, but beware--the calyxes are sharp!
Yellow Rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)
"The fruits [of Yellow Rocket] are not very sturdy, so in winter you will mainly find the silvery membranes that are left after the fruit has split apart...It is usually quite bushy...Yellow Rocket is a common biennial growing in fields and along roadsides." (p. 90)
The yellow flowers of this member of the mustard family (its also known as winter cress) are, during the summer, quite eye-catching. The winter stalk is less bold, but its feathery remnants are delicately splendid. 
Now, here's a pitch: The Montana Natural History Center's library is full of books that are helpful, beautiful, educational, lyrical, and other good things, and I'm sure that you can find something you'll enjoy no matter your interests! (see more about the library here

I hope you're noticing things out in the world as the seasons change and we ease deeper into autumn. It's a lovely time of year.

Wildflowers and Winter Weeds, written and illustrated by Lauren Brown, 1997 reissue. 

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