Monday, July 14, 2008

Pretty pictures: Iowan roadside flowers, and a large wad of metal

The husband and I went southwest down to Sigourney, IA, a week ago,1 and I was kind of shocked at how many things seemed to be blooming along the side of the road. I guess it hadn't occurred to me that summer was necessarily a bigger time for that than spring, but it pretty definitely seems to be.


So I know some of them, but there are a few that I can't identify, and one of the NOIDs has been bothering me for several years now, but for some reason it only just occurred to me to ask the internet. I suppose because I didn't have a picture until now.

(I've also thrown in a few other plants that I didn't see on the trip, because they're also weedy and they fit this post better than they could fit another one later.)

So, Iowa roadside stuff. I suppose we should get the obvious one out of the way first:

Zea mays, and Zea mays, and Zea mays . . .

Not really amber waves just yet, but still. That's a whole lot of photosynthesis there, my friends. Oxygen!

Asclepias syriaca, the common milkweed.

I've always liked milkweeds. The leaves get no attention but are actually quite nice. Somebody should slap together a tropical version of these that can be grown indoors.

Or maybe not. "Yeah? You got mealybugs? Well listen, buddy, I'd kill to trade for mealybugs right now. I got monarch caterpillars all over my bed, my toothbrush, the kitchen sink; chrysalises (chrysali?) blocking the air vents and dangling over the toilet; and we can't even watch TV anymore because as soon as we turn it on, all these butterflies jump up and fly into the screen. So I don't even want to hear about your mealybug problems."

One of the NOIDs.

Very patchily distributed. Maybe a deliberate planting. Damn pretty in large quantity.

Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed susan.

Not a good picture, but I don't like black-eyed susans well enough to care, apparently.

A chicory (Cichorium intybus) flower.

These were everywhere in certain areas, which surprised me: I don't remember seeing them as a child, and I grew up not far from Sigourney, so it's a puzzler. I remember violets, asters, milkweed, plantains, red clover, white clover and dandelions; surely I would have noticed chicory, had it been there.2

Another NOID.

This is the NOID that's been troubling me. Again, I don't remember seeing it as a kid, and yet now it's everywhere -- large stretches of I-80 are lined with it on one side of the road or another. Occasionally both. It's such a vivid yellow that I can't imagine how I would have missed it all those years. So is it new? Invasive? What is this thing?

UPDATE: Julia, in comments, says it's the birdsfoot trefoil, or birdfoot deervetch (Lotus corniculatus), which does appear to be the case. I'll be back to add to the post again if I can find out anything about what it's doing in Iowa.

Another NOID.

This one sort of looks related to the yellow NOID; they both produce small circles of flowers, and they tend to grow in the same places. If I remember right, though, the foliage is completely different. So maybe not.

UPDATE: When I was watering perennials yesterday at work, I saw that we actually have this for sale. It wasn't in flower, but the foliage looked right. Turns out it's crown vetch (or purple crownvetch), Securigera varia, which is found in most states of the U.S. and is a problematic invasive in some of them. So why are we selling it, when it can be invasive, and when anybody could dig some up from along the side of the road if they really wanted some that badly? Bless me, I have no idea. I'll have to ask the boss, or somebody, if anybody actually buys it.


When I was a kid, I remember being told that this was an aster. The actual botanical genus Aster has been split up, with Old World species retaining the designation Aster and the New World species getting shattered into a half-dozen or so other genera. So I don't know what this is, but I remember seeing it as a kid. Lots. The bees liked it, as I recall.

UPDATE: Well, it's an Erigeron of some kind, probably E. annuus, which is known to be in southeast Iowa and is a pure white. There are other Erigeron in Iowa that are supposed to be slightly pinkish, though I can't say I've ever seen anything like that. Thanks to Frances for the tip.

Verbascum thapsus, the common mullein.

I like this plant. I see these particular specimens on my way to work every day, but the species seems to be common around Iowa City.

Another NOID.

This was also one I saw on the way to work; the flower didn't last long, and turned into a dandelionish puff of seeds. I feel like I ought to know the name, like I did at one time or something, but I got nothing right now.

Ostrich ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris. Pretty sure.

I took this picture because I think these are resprouts from disturbed ground: they're alongside of a house in a town near here (Wellman, maybe?) that has, for some reason, had all the ground around the foundation dug up. These appeared to be coming back from roots under the soil, or maybe the original plants were just covered up, not torn to pieces. Not sure how it works. All I know is, I've heard ostrich ferns were tough, and now I believe it.

Large wad of metal.

This was a large wad of metal sitting in a field near West Chester. What is it from? Why is it just sitting there? Is this, perhaps, Art? We do not know. There was some brief discussion of how we might heave it into the car and take it home with us, or offer to buy it as scrap metal and then try to pawn it off to someone else as sculpture, but practical considerations prevailed. Also it's actually more interesting, attractive, and likely to give a person tetanus than a lot of art I've seen, which made the whole thing seem less workable.

If you know any of the NOID plants, or if you'd like to bid on the giant ball of twisted rusty metal (what a garden ornament it would make!), sing out in comments. Or, you know, keep it to yourself, if that's how you want to be.


Photo credits:

1 (To look at an empty library. Sort of a long story.)
2 I know: stop calling you Shirley. Wilco.


Julia said...

Your sixth photo, the yellow NOID that's been bothering you, is birdsfoot trefoil by the looks of things - Lotus corniculatus.

The eighth one, the one you remember being called an aster, looks like a daisy. They're part of the Asteraceae family. The genus name is Bellis - if you were in the UK it'd definitely be B. perennis but I'm not sure what species are common in the US.

And those are ostrich ferns alright - you can't keep a good one down! They propagate like crazy via runners, so even if you dig up the soil around them there's bound to be something that survives and sends out fronds. I'm surprised they're so happy in what looks like a very dry soil, but they are very resilient.

RMR said...

I love that chicory photo. That is one of my favorite flowers. You're cool. I'm happy to hear that your PB is OK.

Lance said...

Seems like I remember reading about vetch seed being sprayed along new road construction to stabilize the soil. So it probably is invasive somewhat. And don't they also sell it as deer food?

perL said...

Hey, Mr. S, I love your new bio photo.
You're right about the vetch. It's the only plant besides poison ivy I've drenched with RoundUp. And of course as the song goes, the cat came back. Nasty stuff. Nearly impossible to get all the rhizomes out.
Did you find out what that first NOID is? I like it too.
This is a time of year I love for photographing roadside and woods flowers, so thanks for the post.

Tracy said...

"I've always liked milkweeds. The leaves get no attention but are actually quite nice. Somebody should slap together a tropical version of these that can be grown indoors."

OMG, I can't believe I am the first to mention it.......A hoya is a tropical version of this plant.....same family.....the milkweeds. Check it out in wikipedia.

mr_subjunctive said...

Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I knew they were both in the Asclepiadaceae. I was meaning more that the upright Asclepias sort of already looks like a tropical - I remember thinking not too long ago that they're built a lot like Ficus elastica. But that's true about the Hoyas. I wonder - are there any non-trailing, upright Hoyas? That would be cool, and it would also wind up looking something like a milkweed, I bet.

theysaywordscanbleed said...

gorgeous photos!

University Place florist

Frances, said...

Your daisy like if it was in the UK is an erigeron of some kind, common name fleabane. Tanzania, who knew?

Frances at Faire Garden

Frances, said...

And a pox on the crown vetch and whoever thought it should be planted everywhere along all the highway system of the US.

sheila said...

Crownvetch is used in Maryland a lot on steep hills next to roads. It is a very effective ground cover that keeps the soil from eroding. I wouldn't be surprised if it's invasive, but I've never lived close enough to any for it to be a problem for me personally.

Ostrich ferns are not as tough as I wish they were. I guess I thought that the whole tough thing meant I could plant them in soil that was too dry for regular ferns. So not true. I have been surprised to see them growing in fairly sunny places in the wild, as long as they stay damp. I finally planted one in my "bog garden", which is really just a garden full of clay that I decided would do best with bog plants. So far, so good. Not sure how the whole overwintering thing will go; perhaps the roots will rot out there. We'll see.

Hoya - my solution is to grow one on a topiary ring, as I'm out of space for hanging plants. Of course, the topiary ring hasn't made it anywhere near the potted hoya yet, so it's too early to tell how well this project will work out.