Tag Archives: Missouri

Ubiquitous Pinkweed Blooming Everywhere

Each day this summer the goats go out their pasture gate and past two foot high thickets of pinkweed. These plants seem to be everywhere.

pinkweed

Pinkweed is a brightly colored smartweed. The plants have numerous branches tipped with flower clusters.

Other years I wander down the creek floodplain by the small buck pasture to find various smartweeds. Pinkweed is the most obvious one of these.

Color is the first thing you notice about pinkweed – deep, vibrant pink flower bundles at the ends of every branch. Each individual flower is small and barely opens one end. Tiny gnats crawl in and back out.

pinkweed flowers

Pinkweed buds open at one end allowing small gnats entry. The flowers close up again making a seed the same shape as the flower. The seeds are brown.

Later the flowers change to brown. Each has become a seed the same shape as the flower. Running a hand over the bundle leaves a pile of seeds in your hand.

At one time several smartweeds were gathered as wild greens. Most are edible although peppery and often bitter. A few burn the mouth.

Pinkweed is supposed to be in the edible category. I don’t care much for the bitter, peppery tastes so I haven’t tried it. Deer are supposed to eat it although my goats ignore it.

prick thumb smartweed

One of the white smartweeds is called Prick Thumb. Its stems are lined with tiny stiff hooks that will indeed hook your thumb if you rub the stem. The flowers are in a small cluster on the ends of the stems. Like pinkweed the flowers don’t open very far. The plant likes moist areas.

Ancient peoples gathered the seeds as food. Archaeologists find them in old encampment sites. It would take a lot of seeds to make a meal.

Birds don’t mind the small size. Numerous birds from waterfowl to songbirds to bobwhites feast on this bounty. Mice and voles probably do as well.

Other years the pinkweed has been a short plant although Ozark Wildflowers, a Missouri Department of Conservation guidebook, says it can reach five feet. The cool, wet spring was evidently perfect weather for all of the smartweeds as all of them have been numerous and big. These others have white flowers.

false buckwheat

Another smartweed is the vine called false buckwheat. The vines drape themselves over objects and plants then have numerous green and white flowers near the tips of the vines.

Looking over the pinkweed plants I get the impression the branches are longer than two feet. They droop over limiting the plant’s height. Mowing does make the plants short but each bravely puts up a flower spike turning grassy areas pink.

Every flower cluster is dropping seeds so next year will see another wave of pink covering the pasture, the yard and my garden. Although the garden residents will leave as soon as I get around to weeding.

Three Mulleins Blooming

Three mulleins are blooming now. One is at the end. One is in the middle. One is beginning the season.

The first to bloom is the moth mullein. Although I’ve seen yellow ones, most are white with purple hairy stamens. The flowers line a two foot tall spike.

moth mullein, one of three mulleins

Moth mullein flowers are an easy inch across. Several open on the spire sometimes ringing it with their white petals offsetting that dark purple tipped with orange in the center. These seed freely putting out rosettes of crinkly leaves over late summer into fall then putting up flower spikes in late spring the next year. They bloom over a month or more and would make lovely garden flowers.

The plant begins as a rosette of leaves and overwinters before putting on its display. I find the rosettes in my garden and leave many of them. Like many wildflowers, they do seed freely and must sometimes be considered weeds.

Last year other rosettes were growing too. These were big hairy leaves. The white hairs give the leaves a woolly appearance.

mullein flower spire

Mullein grows tall, sometimes topping six feet. Each branch can form its own column making the plant into a candelabra.

This year these rosette leaves gained in size. A tall spire began rising from the center up to five feet or more in height. Yellow flowers open randomly on the spire from the packed flower buds. At times more than one spire will grow or the single one will branch to form a candelabra.

mullein one of three mulleins

Mullein flowers are a rich yellow with yellow stamens topped with orange anthers.

Down near the creek and on the roadside above it a big rosette of deeply lobed leaves began growing. Looking I found a half dozen of these that began putting up a tall stem with these lobed leaves hanging off. The stem branched and the leaves lost their lobes and became smaller.

Finally a few flowers are opening. Often these first flowers are singles in the leaf nodes. Now two flowers top each leaf. These are the yellow foxglove mullein. To me the flowers have more of a smashed look to them.

foxglove mullein was one of three mulleins

Foxglove mullein was listed with the other two. It does have similarities in the flower but it grows differently putting up a tall stem with many branches. Pairs of flowers appear above the numerous leaves.

Only the three mulleins are listed in Flora of Missouri as really growing in the state so it is a treat to see all three close to home. Except foxglove mullein is now moved to another plant family.

I look at these plants with their big green leaves and see a regular plant. I don’t dig any up. When the plants are dug up, it turns out they are plant parasites, stealing sugars from the trees around them.

However I will continue to think of them as a third mullein. The plants do produce most of their own food stealing only a little without any real harm to the trees.

When you go to look at the three mulleins, go early in the morning. This is when the flowers are open wide.