Tag Archives: wildflower

Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum

I suppose many people would chop down the winged sumac on the hill. We do now and then when it gets too tall and thick. But the hill there is too steep to do much else, the sumac is pretty especially in the fall and the praying mantises love it for laying their eggs. So the sumac stays.

Rhus copallinum L.

June to July                                                  N                                 Family: Anacardiaceae

winged sumac umbel

Flower: Branches end with terminal clusters of flowers forming a drooping cone. Each yellowish white flower is tiny, an eighth of an inch across with five petals and five stamens. The calyx under the flower has five triangular lobes that spread out.

winged sumac flowers

Leaf: The alternate leaves are compound with seven to twelve leaflets. The first pair of leaflets is the shortest and they get bigger as they go toward the tip and can reach three inches long. The center stem is winged. The edges are smooth. The leaves are not hairy.

winged sumac leaf

Stem: New stems are hairy. Older stems lose the hairs and become woody with a smooth gray bark dotted with lenticels or raised spots. The stems often branch forming leggy shrubs. Most are five to six feet tall, but can reach 20 feet.

winged sumac under leaf

Root: There is a perennial taproot and rhizomes.

winged sumac bark

Fruit: The single seeds have a red, fleshy coating and are hairy. The red darkens over the winter, if the seeds are not eaten.

winged sumac bud

Habitat: This plant likes sunny, drier areas such as prairies, old fields and roadsides.

winged sumac berries

Edibility: Fresh berries can be steeped. The tea must be filtered to remove the hairs.

winged sumac in summer

Winged Sumac

Dwarf Sumac, Shining Sumac

winged sumac in fall

Early in fall Winged Sumac turns brilliant, glowing scarlet. As it tends to form large colonies, this can be quite spectacular to see. Over the summer the colony is dark green.

There are several sumacs. This one is easy to identify by the winged stems joining the leaflets.

When the flowers open, the air hums from the many insects moving between the clusters. The flowers are too small to see unless you are very close. From a distance the cluster changes from green to off white. The flowers are very engaging to the insects as you can get close enough to examine the flowers without disturbing the busy plying of the bees, wasps, flies and beetles.

The tea from the berries has a slightly lemony taste. The tea is often called Indian Lemonade, although the Indians called it Quallah. It is good plain or sweetened. It does have to be filtered as the hairs are small and stiff and ruin the drink. A good measure is two cups of berries per quart of hot, not boiling, water. This can be adjusted to taste. Dried berries (not old berries off the bushes) can be used.

Enjoy more about the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.

Thimbleweed Anemone virginiana

Thimbles are still around, but many people don’t know what they are now. Still, thimbleweed seed capsules don’t really look like my thimbles. They have so many little hooked beaks sticking out. That would never do in sewing as the material would snag.

Anemone virginiana L.

June to August                                                         N                     Family: Ranunculaceae

thimbleweed flower

Flower: Each stem has a single terminal flower. There are five greenish to white sepals and no petals spreading out to three quarters of an inch across. The sepals have a narrow base, flare out and taper to a shallowly lobed tip. There are three lobes. The edges curl upwards. The center of the flower is a mound of green pistils surrounded by a base of stamens.

thimbleweed side flower

Leaf: Most of the leaves are basal. A single whorl of two or three leaves occurs about half way up the stem. Each leaf is deeply lobed into two or three sections sometimes seeming to divide the leaf into leaflets. Each lobe has two or three shallow lobes. The edges have large, coarse teeth. The lobes and teeth have sharp points. The leaf is on a long petiole with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed leaf

Stem: A single stem or several grow up from the root to a height of one to two and a half feet. It is unbranched although second stems can go up from the single whorl of leaves. The stem is round, green with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

thimbleweed stem

Fruit: The mound of pistils increases in size and can approach an inch long, half that wide. It is thimble-shaped and each pistil sticks out as a little beak. In fall the seed head becomes a mass of wooly hairs attached to the tiny seeds.

thimbleweed fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and good soil. It is drought tolerant, but prefers moister conditions. It grows along roads, in ravines, along streams and in open woods.

thimbleweed open fruit


thimbleweed plant

Although the basal leaves of the Thimbleweed are large and distinctive, the plant often goes unnoticed until the tall stems go up and the flowers open. The leaves are a study in threes: three leaves in a whorl, three large lobes per leaf, and three shallow lobes in each large lobe.

The flowers can be mistaken for no others. The flower sits atop the stem with white sepals spread wide. Since the stamens are long and numerous, they give the flower a bushy look.

For weeks after the sepals have fallen away, the thimble remains. It gains in size. For those who learned hand sewing, a thimble was essential to protect the index finger from the needle. The thimble of the Thimbleweed is the right size and shape.

In the fall the thimbles become a fluffy mass. This generally begins on one side of the thimble and spreads until the entire thimble breaks apart. The wind pulls the mass apart as separate seeds fly away.

This is an interesting plant and easy to grow once established. Several of them would make nice foci in a shady bed. The plants do like some open ground around them.

Long Leaf Bluet Houstonia longifolia

It’s easy to overlook the long leaf bluet flowers in the spring as they are small, the plants are small and delicate. Once spotted, that delicacy makes them easy to identify and worth watching for in other places.

Houstonia longifolia Gaertn.

April to July, rarely fall                             N                                 Family: Rubiaceae

Long Leaf Bluet flower

Flower: Irregular clusters of flowers branch out of stem tips. A few flowers open randomly at a time. Each flower has a stalk as long as the flower, about half an inch. The flower has a cup-shaped, green calyx with four teeth around the base. The flower is a half inch long tube that splits into four or five lobes that spread out flat a quarter inch across. This flower can be white to purplish pink and is covered with hairs. A flower may be a pistillate one having a pistil and shriveled stamens or have several stamens and a shriveled pistil.

Long Leaf Bluet side flower

Leaf: There can be a basal rosette, but this is usually gone before the plant blooms. Opposite leaves line the branches. More small branches of leaves come from the leaf axils. Each leaf is green, half to an inch long and less than a quarter inch wide.

Long Leaf Bluet leaf

Stem: Each crown puts up numerous stems. The stems are green with four angles, branches and can reach ten inches tall. The upper branches have terminal flower clusters.

Long Leaf Bluet under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a crown with fibrous roots.

Long Leaf Bluet stem

Fruit: The seed pod is a globular, two sided capsule with several seeds in each side. This turns brown and dries so the capsule splits to release the seeds.

Long Leaf Bluet fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers sunny, drier places and can be common in prairies, open woods, pastures and roadsides.


Long Leaf Bluet

Slender-leaved Bluet

Long Leaf bluet plant

Walking along this plant catches attention due to the number of flowers on it. Long Leaf Bluets are a leggy plants. Everything about them is slender, the leaves, the stems and the flowers.

The stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The leaves are about an eighth of an inch wide. The flowers are a quarter of an inch across. This leaves the plant looking delicate and leggy although it’s less than a foot tall.

The flowers usually look light pink to white. These show up well against the dark green leaves. The many clusters are full of buds so lots of flowers open each day.

Long Leaf Bluets are moving into rock gardens. They are easy to grow from seed and return bigger every year. They are not fussy about soil and don’t mind a bit of dryness.

New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus

This is one wildflower I overlook until I smell the flowers. This is strange as New Jersey Tea is a big plant. The ones I see are often overshadowed by surrounding, bigger plants and tend to spread wide instead of getting tall. it is a plant worth looking for.

Ceanothus americanus L.

May to November                                       N                                 Family: Rhamnaceae

New Jersey Tea flowers

Flower: Branch tips are surrounded by clusters of white flowers. Other clusters come from leaf nodes. Each flower is barely a quarter inch across with 5 sepals, 5 petals, 5 stamens and a pistil on a stalk, all white. The flowers are fragrant.

New Jersey Tea flower umbel

Leaf: Leaves line the stems and are mostly alternate, but can be opposite. Each leaf is egg-shaped on a short petiole. Three big veins go out from the leaf’s base. The tip is rounded. The leaf is dark green with scattered hairs on top and light green with prominent veins and short hairs on the bottom.

New Jersey Tea leaf

Stem: Multiple stems come up from the root. They branch and can reach three feet in height. The stems start out light green turning yellowish and becoming woody especially at the base as they get older. The younger stems are hairy.

New Jersey Tea under leaf

Root: This perennial has a taproot.

New Jersey Tea stem

Fruit: There are 3 seeds inside a three lobed pod. These turn brown and dry when ripe splitting open to eject the seeds forcefully enough to travel several feet.

New Jersey Tea Fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny places. these can be drier areas such as prairies, fields, roadsides and edges of woods.

Edibility: Many animals eat this plant. The leaves can be dried and used for tea. It has historical medicinal uses.


New Jersey Tea

Wild Snowball

New Jersey Tea plant

Walking along the rich, sweet scent of New Jersey Tea alerts the walker to the presence of the plant. It is easy to spot with its white flower clusters looking like a stockpile of snowballs waiting to be used.

Shortly before the revolutionary War, the colonists boycotted English tea. This was a popular beverage. The leaves from this plant were used as a substitute for tea giving it the common name of New Jersey Tea.

The plant can be fairly large, reaching three feet tall and as much or more side. The foliage is attractive. It does convert some nitrogen into useable form.

The flowers are present for several months although the clusters are fewer in number and look a little ragged as the season progresses. The seed pods are interesting to look at as the clusters of them are as big as the flower cluster they replace.

Once established, the plant increases in size each year. It is drought resistant.

Pale Leather Flower Clematis versicolor

Finding and photographing a Pale Leather Flower vine in bloom can be challenging. Finding is the easy part as it is fairly common in places it likes to grow. Photographing can be difficult as the vines are often mixed into other vines such as virgin’s bower, yellow passion flower, cat briar and wild yam.

Clematis versicolor Small ex Rydb

May to June                                                  N                                 Family: Ranunculaceae

pale leather flower side flower

Flower: The flower is on a long stalk from a leaf node. It is formed from four sepals fused together in an egg-shape with the large end attached to the stalk. The small end opens up with the ends of the sepals curling out and back. The upper end of the flower is purple. the lower end is white or greenish white. A mass of stamens is inside the flower surrounding several pistils.

Pale Leather Flower flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves have long petioles and can be single or compound with 3 to 5 leaflets. All leaves or leaflets have smooth edges. They form a long oval with a short, tapered, rounded tip. There is a midvein. The other veins form a net lighter in color than the dark green leaf. The underside is light green.

pale leather flower leaf

Stem: Young stems are green and twine around anything nearby. Older stems turn reddish and woody. The stems are ridged. The vines can be fifteen feet long and generally bunch up over another plant rather than running the entire length. The stems put out numerous branches.

pale leather flower under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

pale leather flower stem

Fruit: A ball of seed pods, each like a tall hat with an extra long peak, contains the seeds. These mature and break open the now dry pods to spread a long fluffy line out to get caught by the wind.

pale leather flower fruit

Habitat: This plant likes shady, moist places such as open, low woods and ravines as well as roadsides near these places.


Pale Leather Flower

Leather Flower

pale leather flower plant

Pale Leather Flower vines spread across low growing vegetation and fences. It’s rare for them to go up into trees. The vines can twine but often only sprawl.

The flowers are easy to spot on vines growing along the roads. A single vine can have dozens of flowers on it. The flowers are unusual in both shape and color compared to other plants growing nearby.

Pale Leather Flower is available commercially. The leaves are a nice shade of green. The vines would grow well on a trellis or wire fence. The flowers bob and dance in any breeze on their long stalks. The seed pod groups are interesting to look at.

Autumn Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale

The sneezeweeds are often one of the last entries in a wildflower guidebook under yellow flowers. They don’t bloom until fall is starting. Autumn Sneezeweed is easy to spot in wet areas.


Helenium autumnale L.

August to November                                   N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

autumn sneezeweed flower

Flower: Upper leaf nodes and branch tips put out flower stalks that thicken just under the flower head. The numerous sepals are light green, threadlike and curve upward around the center disk. Up to 20 triangular ray flowers surround the central disk. The rays range from yellow to orange and have three lobes on the outer edge. They stick straight out or slope away from the central disk. The central disk is a globular mound of yellow tube flowers.

autumn sneezeweed side flower

Leaf: Alternate leaves are sessile looking like they are part of the stem going off because of the wings. The leaves are long with a single midvein. Many, especially lower leaves have teeth. The surfaces have a dotted appearance due to tiny glands on them.

autumn sneezeweed leaf

Stem: One or several main stems grow up to 5 feet tall branching about half way up. The pale green to whitish stems are squared off and have green wings descending down from each leaf.

autumn sneezeweed stem

Root: The perennial roots are fibrous and shallow making the plant vulnerable to drought and fire.


Habitat: This plant likes very moist conditions preferring sunny edges of spring wetlands, ponds, creeks and lakes.

Poisonous: The plant contains a bitter lactone and can be toxic to grazing livestock.


Common Sneezeweed

Autumn Sneezeweed

autumn sneezeweed plant

Autumn Sneezeweed is a late blooming sunflower. It doesn’t open until the asters do, then blooms until autumn frosts drive most plants into dormancy for the winter.

This is an easy plant to identify. First, it likes growing in or near water. I find it around lakes and in wetlands.

Second, the flowers are so distinctive. No other yellow flower has the blunt triangle rays with lobes on the wide end. And the center is a pompom. For autumn Sneezeweed, the pompom is yellow.

Insects pollinate sneezeweed. The pollen doesn’t blow around making people sneeze. Where did the name come from?

Years ago Indians dried the plant. The dry leaves and flowers were crumbled in powder and used as a cold remedy snuff. This is sniffing pinches of powder. This caused sneezing.

Any of the sneezeweeds are bitter and avoided by livestock. Autumnal Sneezeweed is not a problem in any but low, wet pastures. In these it can grow in dense stands and be a problem.

Gaura Oenothera filiformis

Botanical names can be confusing. Gaura was listed as Gaura longiflora and Gaura biensis. These were combined in the new volumes of Flora of Missouri by Dr. Yatskievych so the same plants are now Oenothera filiformis.

This confusion can make people dislike using scientific names. I prefer using these as each name refers to a particular kind of plant. Plants can have more than one common name. Or a single common name can refer to more than one plant.

Yes, I still refer to most plants by their common names when talking to other people. It makes conversation easier.

Oenothera filiformis W.L. Wagner & Hoch

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Onagraceae

gaura flower

Flower: Loose groups of flowers tip the branches and arise at leaf nodes. Each flower has four upright petals with a long pistil swooping down from them flanked by four stamens on each side. A fresh flower is usually pink tinged white and turns darker pink as it ages over the day. Two pink sepals sweep back from the flower. The long flower stalk is a cylindrical ovary with a green lower section and pink upper section.

Gaura side flower

Leaf: The basal leaf rosette can be the first year’s growth or beginning of the year’s growth. It may or may not be present when the plant blooms. The stem leaves are alternate with a short, winged petiole. Small leaves can grow at the base of the petiole. Each leaf is long flaring out to the middle then tapering to a point. The wavy edges are irregular but not lobed or toothed. There is a single midvein. Top and bottom of the leaf is green, slick-looking and covered with short hairs.

Gaura leaf

Stem: One or several slender, green, hairy stems come up from the root then branch repeatedly forming a wide, leggy bush reaching five feet or more in height.

Gaura under leaf

Root: The fleshy root can be annual or biennial.

Gaura stem

Fruit: A long tube with tapered, rounded tip.

gaura fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny locations favoring pastures, glades, roadsides and open, disturbed areas.


Large Flowered Gaura

Gaura plant

Gaura is tall and leggy. It looks like a coordinated structure of slender, green sticks with handfuls of flowers glued on here and there. These sway in any breath of wind.

The flowers are easily recognizable with their four petals sticking up like the ribs for a fan. They fade by noon turning deep pink and folding themselves along the developing seed pod.

Although the plants grow in a variety of sunny places, I see them commonly along the roads. The leggy bushes are easy to recognize. The flowers are smaller and must be seen from closer up.

The seed pods are colorful as they develop. They turn brown when mature. The plant seeds freely.

Horseweed Conyza canadensis

So many of the plants we regard as weeds came from Europe along with the colonists and their seeds and livestock. This weed is a native American variety. Call it horseweed, mare’s tail or hogweed, it’s tall and prolific.

Very small flowers are easier to show in pairs so the front and side views are in the same picture.

Conyza canadensis Cronquist

June to November                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Astereae

Horseweed flower

Flower: The many-branched flower panicle can be 18 inches tall and spread out over 6 inches with a flame shape. Each flower is cylindrical. The half inch long cylinder is made up of dark green, overlapping bracts. From 25 to 45 white ray flowers radiate out an eighth of an inch around the top of the cylinder surrounding numerous tube flowers.

Horseweed leaf

Leaf: Alternate leaves can be so dense as to appear whorled. Each leaf is 2 – 3 1/2 inches long but less than 1/2 inch wide. There is a midvein and thick edges. White hairs stick out along the edges. Top and bottom are dark green.

Horseweed under leaf

Stem: The single stem can reach 7 feet. It is light green with white hairs. It is stiff.

Horseweed stem

Root: The annual root is a short taproot with fibrous roots.

Horseweed seeds

Fruit: The seeds are an eighth of an inch long and thin with short, white threads sticking out one end.

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun and disturbed areas such as roadsides and barnyards.



Canada Fleabane, Hogweed, Mare’s Tail

Horseweed plant

Horseweed is a native weedy species. It produces hundreds of seeds which are wind disseminated. The plants often come up in dense stands.

The young stem growing up can be mistaken for a goldenrod. Once the flower stalks appear, horseweed is unmistakable.

In poor areas horseweed can be short, only a couple of feet tall. In better soils and with enough rain, the stems can reach seven feet with massive flower heads. If you can overlook the facts that few animals other than insects eat these plants and their sheer numbers can make them a nuisance, the tall, flowering plants are impressive.

The plants seem to prefer growing along fence lines or near sheds. They can grow in shade but do best in full sun.

Wind can make a group of horseweeds seem to ripple as the stems dip down and stand back up. The stiff stems can take a lot of wind without being uprooted. It takes pressure to snap the stems.

Each plant matures, flowers, seeds and dies over a few months. New plants replace the older ones to keep the blooming time so long. The leaves yellow and drop off from the bottoms of the stems as seed heads replace the flowers until only the stalk is left devoid of flowers, leaves and seeds.

For the serious amateur botanist, check out the book The Syrian Milkweed to find out more about how plants get their names and how the process can make mistakes.

Cup Plant Silphium perfoliatum

Each summer a line of cup plants grows up along my road. There was only one cup plant the first year. The lines have gained in length and number of plants every year since. New lines of plants have started nearby.

The thick stem and massive leaves make the cup plant noticeable. Then there is the size: eight feet tall! The flowers seem so small for such an impressive plant.

The plants seem to grow slowly. Perhaps this is because they get so tall. Even the short ones are taller than I am.

The stems are stiff and difficult to pull over without breaking them. I resorted to pulling my truck over close to the ditch and climbing into the pickup bed to get pictures of the flowers.


Silphium perfoliatum L.

July to September                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

cup plant flower

Flower: A spray of flower stalks comes up out of the top pair of leaves. These stalks can branch. Each is tipped with a flower head of a disk of yellow tube flowers and 18 to 35 orange yellow ray flowers. The cup behind the flower is green formed by numerous bracts with pointed tips but appearing almost fused around the base of the flower head, smooth and hairless.

cup plant side flower

Leaf: The opposite leaves are large, over a foot long and nearly a foot wide at the base end slowly tapering to a point. The two leaves join together to surround the stem and attach at a swollen node forming a depression around the stem. The edges have widely separated teeth. The strong midvein holds the leaves out stiffly although the  last quarter droops down. The leaves are green on the tops and pale green underneath.

cup plant leaf

Stem: A single, unbranched stem can reach ten feet. The stem is square, ridged, with a few scattered short hairs, coarse to the touch and stiff.

cup plant under leaf

Root: The perennial roots are rhizomes forming colonies.

cup plant stem


Habitat: This plant prefers moist areas such as roadside ditches, moist woods and stream banks. It likes partial sun and light shade.

Cup Plant

Cup Rosinweed

cup plant

Few plants are as impressive as the Cup Plant. The inch thick stem and massive leaves rise up out of the surrounding plants then tower over them. Most Cup Plants seem to top out at seven feet. Some are shorter and a few are up to three feet taller.

Cup Plant leaves are massive. Each pair points in the opposite direction from the previous pair. The depression where the fused leaves join the stem can hold rain water.

For such a large plant, the flower heads are small, only three inches across. Larger plants can have a bouquet of them sprouting up out of the top leaves with six open at a time.

Because of the square stem and leaves at regular intervals, an old name for the plant was measuring weed. Its accuracy for measuring is questionable.

The rhizome root is perennial and puts up more than one stem in a line. The older the root, the more stems it puts up.

White four o’clock Mirabilis albida

The white four o’clock is such an elusive wildflower. The plants are not rare, although finding them requires finding the right habitat. Too often I find the plants too late to see them bloom and only see them open up to spread their seeds. The beauty of the flowers makes the hunt worthwhile for another year.


Mirabilis albida Heimerl

May to October                                            N                                 Family: Nyctaginaceae

white four o'clock flower

Flower: Three flowers hang on long stems from the tip of each flower stalk. The three open the same evening, but not always together. Each flower has a green cup calyx. The white to pink flower is bell-shaped with ten lobes on the flared open end. Five stamens with colored thin filaments and yellow balls of pollen stick out of the bell. A single pistil is mixed in with the stamens.

white four o'clock side flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are sessile or with a short petiole. The top is darker green than the underside. The underside has a covering of very short white hairs that cover the smooth leaf edge as well. There is a deep midvein. The leaves are much longer, up to four inches, than wide but are not narrow and have a rounded tip.

white four o'clock leaf

Stem: The single unbranched stem can be three feet tall. Flower stalks branch out at the leaf nodes, each tipped with flowers. The stem can be hairy or not. It often appears silvery or tan rather than green. It has shallow ridges on the lower portions.

white four o'clock under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial taproot.

white four o'clock stem

Fruit: Up to three seeds form a group in the center of a large, four pointed, light green to white bract. Each white to ecru seed is long and stout, covered with bumps. Each bump has a tuft of bristles sticking out.

white four o'clock fruit

Habitat: This plant likes full sun. It usually grows in poor soils such as gravel bars, glades and road cuts.


White four o’clock

Pale Umbrellawort, Hairy Four o’clock

white four o'clock in bloom

White Four o’clock flowers are fleeting. They open about dusk for an hour or two, then shrivel. The only way to see them is to stalk them.

I found several plants growing along the road. Every evening close to sunset I walked out to check on them. Flowers opened on several evenings, usually a few, but en masse one evening.

white four o'clock plant

Most years I find the plants, walk out evenings and never catch a flower open. The plants have already bloomed and are setting seed. More commonly the single stalk has numerous green calyxes. The lower ones begin to flare open exposing the seeds.


Eastern Figwort Scrophularia marilandica

The first figwort I saw was growing on a roadside near a cold water spring. The flowers were such an unusual shape and color, it caught my attention. To my surprise it turned up in Ozark Wildflowers, the last brown wildflower in the book.

That plant came up several more years until the annual brush cutting finally killed it off. However I had found another plant growing near a shed at home. that plant continues to thrive as do several others I have come across over the years.


Scrophularia marilandica L.

July to October                                            N                                 Family: Scrophulariaceae

figwort flower

Flower: Flowers are on long stalks both at the top of the stem and from leaf nodes on the upper half of the stem. Each flower has a cylindrical shape from the side. A green calyx with five pointed lobes surrounds the base. The five petals are light green on the outside. From the open end of the cylinder the inside of the petals is reddish brown. Two petals form a flat top. Two petals form the sides. A single wider petal that curves downward forms the bottom. Inside are five stamens. An infertile one is on the upper petals. Four fertile ones with cupped ends are over the lower petal. A single pistil hangs out dangling from the lower petal.

figwort side flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are spaced along the stem. Lower leaves have long, up to 3 inches long petioles. the petioles get shorter as the leaves get higher on the stem. Each leaf has a rounded base with a long taper to a sharp point. The edges have regular teeth. The upper surface is darker green than the under side of the leaf. The midvein is prominent on the lower surface as are the main venous branches. The midvein can have short hairs on both top and bottom sides.

figwort leaf

Stem: A single rigid, square, unbranched, green stem can be three and a half feet to eight or ten feet tall. Flower stalks go off from leaf nodes and make a loose spire at the top of the stem. The sides of the stem are curved inwardly on each side. The stem can have short hairs.

figwort under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial knotty tuber with rhizomes.

figwort stem

Fruit: The seed pod is made up of two pieces forming a globular  case around numerous seeds.

figwort fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade in open woods, ravines and creek banks.


Eastern Figwort

Carpenter’s Square, Late Figwort

figwort plant

Figwort plants seem to get taller every year. The lower leaves get longer, up to eight inches. this is what gets the plant noticed.

Figwort flowers are small, barely half an inch long, and easily missed. Once noticed, their unusual shape is eye-catching.

From the side a figwort flower appears green. From the front the deep reddish brown is seen. Four yellow marbles sit on the lower lip of the flower. These are the stamens.

From the side the two upper petals are flat, extending out like a flat roof over the rest of the flower. The rest of the flower hangs down from this flat roof giving the flower the appearance of a short pipe.

From the front the two upper petals have rounded, ruffled edges of deep reddish brown. The front is round and extends back inside the almost quarter inch across pipe.

The plants seem to grow singly. Once one is spotted, it comes up every year. One grows near a shed wall. The first year is was three feet tall. Ten years later it is taller than the eaves, close to seven feet tall.

Read about more Ozarks plants and animals in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Perennial Pea Lathyrus latifolius

Lathyrus latifolius L.

June to October                                           I                                   Family: Fabaceae

perennial pea flower

Flower: The round, green flower stalks come from the leaf axils and can reach almost a foot long with four to sixteen flowers on them. The flowers have five white to dark pink petals arranged with two large petals standing up behind two small petals forming a projection with the fifth petal forming a bottom of this keel.

perennial pea side flower

Leaf: The alternate, green leaves have long winged petioles topped with a pair of leaflets. Each leaflet is a broad as the petiole wings at the base and slowly tapers to a point. There is a midvein. At the junction of the two leaflets and petiole is a forked tendril. The two ends twine around objects helping the vine to climb.perennial pea leaf

Stem: The stems are green with wide wings. They can reach 7 feet long and sprawl across the ground or climb up neighboring vegetation.

Perennial pea under leaf

Root: The root is a perennial taproot with rhizomes.

perennial pea stem


Habitat: This plant prefers sunny slopes with good soil and often grow along roadsides or other disturbed areas.

Poisonous: The seeds are poisonous. The foliage is not poisonous.

perennial pea panicle of flowers

Perennial Pea

Everlasting Pea

perennial pea plant

Perennial Pea is easy to spot along a road. There are usually numerous vines snaking across over the roadside vegetation. Brilliant pink handfuls of flowers are scattered on the vines.

Other vines may have white flowers. The two colors may be adjacent to each other but do not seem to mix. Both can put on a show.

Perennial pea white flower

Originally this unscented relative of sweet peas came from southern Europe. The plant prefers south or west facing slopes where conditions are the warmest. Good soil and adequate moisture produce the biggest vines.

The vines do have tendrils and can climb, but are not strong climbers. The vines are easily broken. They can root, if they touch the ground.

Perennial pea is planted and seeds are available. The seeds germinate easily. The plant grows quickly, blooming the first year. It’s bright colors, long blooming time and ability to climb a trellis make it a popular garden plant.

Carolina Crane’s Bill Geranium carolinianum

The geranium family or Geraniaceae has three members in Dent County. The most noticeable is the wild geranium, Geranium maculatum, with its large deep pink flowers. This bushier, weedier member, Carolina Crane’s Bill, is more interesting after setting its fruit. Some crane type birds do put their beaks straight up to blend into the foliage behind them when danger threatens. The seed pods mimic this posture.

Geranium carolinianum L.

May to July                                                  N                                 Family: Geraniaceae

crane's bill flower

Flower: Flower stalks come out of the leaf axils. Each stalk ends with two light pink to lavender, notched flowers with three veins showing in each of the five petals. Five pointed, hairy, green sepals show between the five petals.

Crane's Bill leaf

Leaf: Some leaves are basal. The others are opposite on the stems. Each green leaf has a long hairy petiole. Five big veins go out five main lobes which divide into more lobes dividing into more lobes. The leaves can be covered with very short hairs.

Crane's Bill under leaf

Stem:The stems branch giving the up to two foot tall plant a bushy appearance. The stems are smooth, green to red and covered with short hairs.

Crane's bill stem

Root: There is an annual taproot.

Crane's Bill fruit

Fruit: The seed pod has a globular base with a long stalk pointing up from the base. These turn dark brown when ripe.

Habitat: This plant grows in many areas as glades, bluffs, prairies, stream banks, disturbed areas and woods. It prefers somewhat open areas.

Carolina Crane’s Bill

Crane's Bill plant

Carolina Crane’s Bill is easily identified by its distinctive leaves when it is small. Later the flowers look like miniature garden geraniums. Finally the seed pods looking like a crane pointing its bill skyward is unmistakable.

This is a tough plant. It can be found growing in gravel driveways. It seems to prefer these hard places as few other plants can grow there to offer competition.

Carolina Crane’s Bill stays smaller in packed ground. In better areas the plant spreads out and up for a couple of feet. Every leaf node sports flowers. Once the seed pods turn brown, the plant is decorated by them.

Since the plant is an annual, it produces lots of weeds. It grows quickly, blooms and sets more seeds. This and its tendency to grow in difficult places gets the plant listed as a weed.

The leaves are not poisonous and can be eaten. They are rated as very bitter. The short hairs would give them a fuzzy feel.

Jacob’s Ladder Polemonium reptans

The spring ephemerals including Jacob’s Ladder are up and starting to bloom all over the Ozarks. They try to grow, bloom and seed before the trees leaf out blocking the sunlight from the forest floor.

Each plant has a storage root with the food needed to bloom. It is restocked while the seeds form.

Once the seeds are ripe and disbursed, the plant withers and vanishes. Only the root remains alive and waiting for the next spring rush.

Polemonium reptans L.

April to June                                                 N                                 Family: Polemoniaceae

Jacob's Ladder flower

Flower: A thin hairy stalk ends in an olive green calyx of five pointed sepals around the base of five, light blue, thin petals forming a flaring bell-shaped flower an inch across. A long white pistil extends outmost of the length of the petals and has a style split into three parts. Five stamens of different lengths surround the pistil. Each flower cluster tends to be wider than long with five to seventeen flowers.

Jacob's Ladder side flower

Leaf: Alternate compound leaves have an end leaflet and three to nine pairs of opposite leaflets. Each leaflet has a prominent midvein. The central petiole has scattered hairs on it and bulges to partially wrap the stem.

Jacob's Ladder leaf

Stem: A single stem grows up to 18 inches tall. The sparsely hairy stems are green but turn reddish especially in the sun. The stem branches putting out several flowering stems.

Jacob's Ladder under leaf

Root: The root is a woody perennial one.

Jacob's Ladder stem


Habitat: This plant likes moist shady areas such as ravines and edges of low woods of deciduous trees.

Jacob’s Ladder

Greek Valerian

Jacob's Ladder plant

Jacob’s Ladder looks like clusters of small blue bells tucked under still bare trees in the early spring. The name comes from the leaves which look like an old makeshift ladder with a single central pole and crossbar rungs. This is another of the spring ephemerals that blooms, sets seed and goes dormant by early summer.

The pale blue flowers seem to appear often in a double row. They can point up or down yet seem to point out straight like a bank of ballpark lights.

The seed pods are light green balls and can seem to promise another round of flowers. The next round of flowers will be the next spring when some of these seeds may be plants themselves.

Toothwort Cardamine concatenata

The spring ephemeral wildflowers are starting to bloom here in the Ozarks. This includes toothwort, rue anemone, false rue anemone and Johnny Jump Ups. The first blue violets and wood violets are blooming too.

Cardamine concatenata O. Schwarz

March to May                                              N                                 Family: Brassicaceae

toothwort flowers

Flower: The stem tip puts out many flower buds. Each flower is on a stalk and has a cup of green sepals with pink tips. The flower stays in a tube to the top of the sepals then the four white to pink petals flare open. Five or six stamens surrounding a pistil stick out of the central tube.

toothwort flower

Leaf: The leaves form a single whorl with three leaves going off the stem. Each leaf is split into three long narrow lobes. The two outside lobes may split into two lobes and the central lobe may split into three lobes. Each lobe is toothed at intervals.

toothwort leaf

Stem: Single unbranched stems can grow a little over a foot tall. The stems are covered with short hairs.

toothwort stem

Root: The perennial root is a series of tuberous swellings connected by thinner roots forming a rhizome.

toothwort fruit

Fruit: The seed pod is almost two inches long but barely an eighth of an inch in diameter. The seeds are lined up in the pods.

Habitat: This plant likes open woods but likes it moist. It is commonly found in bottomland forests and ravines.

Edibility: The tuberous parts of the rhizomes can be eaten in salads or dried and ground. It is spicy.

Cut-Leaved Toothwort

toothwort plant

Toothwort is one of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom. The plants form little green forests on the forest floor The green turns to pink as the flowers open.

At one time many of the plants didn’t make it to blooming as they became potherbs. The roots were used as a horseradish substitute and toothache remedy.

Although the leaves have teeth, the name toothwort did not refer to these teeth. There are tooth-like projections on the rhizomes and these gave the plant its common name.

In early spring places in the woods and ravines seem to be covered with toothwort. The sunny forest floor turns pink when the plants bloom. The trees leaf out as the plants are finishing making seeds. A short time later the plants have vanished even though summer has barely begun.

The plant has scattered seeds to start new plants and replaced the starch in its roots and rhizomes so it can bloom in the next spring. So the plant goes dormant avoiding heat and drought and being in deep shade under summer trees full of leaves.


Cardamine hirsuta Hoary Bitter Cress

Brassicaceae or the mustard family has quite a few cresses in it. These cresses are similar in many respects and can be difficult to tell apart.

Several are edible. Water Cress, Yellow Rocket and Shepard’s Purse are among these. From the name, this is not one to try. It is blooming now.

Cardamine hirsuta L.

 March to April                                             I                                   Family: Brassicaceae

hoary bitter cress flower

hoary bitter cress side flower

Flower: A cluster of white, four petaled flowers tips the stalk. Each flower has a stalk the length of the flower. Four green sepals half the length of the petals surround and cup the flower. Each sepal is tipped with hairs. The four petals have a long, narrow base part that flares out into a rounded top. Four stamens surround a flat-topped style. The pistil starts elongating through the middle of the flower as soon as it is pollinated and before the petals drop.

hoary bitter cress leaf

Leaf: Leaves are alternate and compound with several pairs of round, sparsely hairy leaflets and a terminal round leaflet. The leaflets may have large rounded teeth tipped with a stiff hair or have smooth edges. The petiole is reddish toward the base, hairy and grooved on the top. Most form a rosette at the base of the flowering stalk. The few leaves on the flowering stalk have long, narrow leaflets.

hoary bitter cress under leaf

Stem: The stems are ridged, green to dark green, unbranched and usually hairless. They are erect but may have jogs in them at leaf nodes.

hoary bitter cress stem

Root: Annual

hoary bitter cress fruit

Fruit: The seed capsule is up to an inch long and slender. It has a series of bulges the entire length, each one indicating a seed.

Habitat: The plant likes moist disturbed ground such as lawns, river and stream banks.

Hoary Bitter Cress

hoary bitter cress plant

Hoary Bitter Cress seems to be the first of the cresses to bloom in the spring. Many of the cresses can be used as wild greens including this one. As the name implies, this one is bitter to the taste and better mixed into a batch of potherbs.

The plant can survive frost into the teens. Even the flowers seem to withstand such a frost.

Typical of weeds, Hoary Bitter Cress grows quickly and blooms. The first flower stalks can be short, barely three inches tall. The flowers are fewer in number than on later, taller – up to a foot – stalks.

The flowers are the four-petaled ones of the mustard family. They are quickly pollinated. The seed pod grows up between the petals. All of the pods point upward. When the seeds ripen, the pod splits in half lengthwise to release them. The seeds don’t seem to travel far so the plants occur in clumps.

I found the plants in several places. Lawn grasses surround some. Other plants were in drier habitat on a hillside but still in a sunny, grassy location. The lushest plants grew in a river floodplain.

Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria

Dianthus armeria L.

May to October                                            I                                   Family: Caryophyllaceae

Deptford Pink flower

Flower: Each flower stalk ends in a single vividly pink  half inch across flower. Each flower appears to be set into a brushy mix of long, narrow, pointed bracts and sepals. The five petals are pink with white spots with a reddish pink line forming a pentagon half way out. The petals are lobed on the ends. Ten stamens and two pistils are in the center tube of the flower.

Deptford Pink flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves have a common sheathe surrounding the stem at the leaf node. They are long and narrow curving down to a blunt point. They have smooth edges and are covered with short hairs. The basal leaves are wider with more rounded points and longer hairs.

Deptford Pink leaf

Deptford Pink basal leaves

Stem: The unbranched stem can reach three feet. There are short hairs at each leaf node. Flower stalks arise in the leaf nodes often branching. The stem is green, round and stiff.

Deptford Pink stem

Root: The annual or biennial root is a slender taproot.

Fruit: The fruit is a half inch long cylindrical pod pointed on both ends.

Deptford Pink seed pods

Habitat: This plant prefers drier disturbed ground like roadsides but sunny locations like edges of woods, pastures and fence lines are used too.

Deptford Pink

Deptford Pink plant

Deptford Pink got its name from the locality it was found in: Deptford, England. The pink part is because it is a member of the pink family many members of which are popular garden flowers. Carnations are pinks.

The plant has been in the New World since colonial times. There is doubt that gardeners brought it over because the flowers are much smaller than other pinks. The seeds may have been mixed in with crop seeds. However it arrived, Deptford Pinks are well established.

Deptford Pink flowers are about half an inch across. The bright pink petals are spread out flat giving maximum visibility. The plants have numerous flower stalks with many flowers ranging from forming buds to open flowers to closed flowers forming seeds.

Disturbed ground such as along roadsides is preferred by Deptford Pinks. The stems and leaves are slender and easily overwhelmed by other more robust plants. Occasional mowing encourages the plants as they will put up new stems and continue blooming.


Bluebells Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica Pers. ex Link

March to June                                                                                  Family: Boraginaceae


Flower: Flowers are in clusters at the ends of flower stalks. Each flower base is set into a green cup with five pointed lobes. The flower is a long tube that flares into a bell. The tube is about twice as long as the bell. The bell’s rim has small notches as though beginning five petals. The buds are pink and turn blue as the flowers open. Some plants retain the pink flowers or can have white ones.

bluebells flower

bluebells leaf

Leaf: Basal leaves appear first. They look like loose cabbage leaves and can be pinkish in color. Each leaf is broadly oval with a single midvein. The edges are smooth often with a small notch at the leaf tip. The leaves are not hairy. The stem leaves are alternate with petioles. The petioles and leaves get smaller further up the stem.

bluebells leaf bottom

Stem: Smooth unbranched stems grow up to two feet tall but often arch so appearing shorter. Each rootstock may have several stems. The tips put out several flower stalks.

bluebells stem

Root: The perennial root is stout, woody and can have rhizomes.


Habitat: This plant likes shady moist areas such as along rivers, ravines and bottomland forests.


Virginia Cowslip

bluebells plant

Finding one Virginia Bluebell means finding several of them. The plants form colonies and are easy to spot in bloom as the blue, although it appears pastel as a single flower, is vivid when numerous flowers are in a small area.

Virginia Bluebells are a lovely wildflower and easy to grow in a shade garden. They do insist on being in the shade most of the time, having plenty of moisture and rich dirt. The plants go dormant shortly after setting seed in mid summer.

The leaves are attractive when they first come up as they are large and dark pink. They gradually turn green. They appear soft and feel smooth.

The flower buds are pink then lavender but open as blue flowers. Each cluster has a bouquet of flowers that often point downwards. Single flowers point more up.

pink bluebells

The pink or white form can be a single plant in a colony of blue flowered plants.

Fireweed Erechtites hieracifolius

Erechtites hieracifolius Raf.

July to November                                        N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Senecioneae

fireweed flower

Flower: The tube flowers sitting on a central disk are encased by long bracts. These bracts are green, often bulge over the central disk and look like a wall slightly twisted from bottom to top. The top of the bracts flares slightly as the tube flowers open. Their petals are white to light pink but barely stick out over the bracts. The styles extend themselves over the bracts.

fireweed leaf

Leaf: The leaves begin as a rosette then are alternate on the stem getting smaller the higher up the stem they occur. The leaves have numerous toothed lobes with more sharply pointed teeth between the lobes. The upper surface usually has no hairs. The under surface has scattered short hairs especially along the prominent midvein and smaller side veins. The under surface is lighter green than the upper.

fireweed under leaf

Stem: A single strong stem can reach nine feet but is usually much shorter. There are no branches until the flower stalks go off toward the top. The stem has longitudinal grooves but no hairs. It is green but can have a few red streaks.

fireweed stem

Root: This annual has a taproot.

Fruit: The long ovate seed is attached to the central disk. The other end has a tuft of white hairs that flares out to better catch the wind.

fireweed seeds

Habitat: This plant likes open areas especially disturbed ones. It can appear in openings in the woods or more commonly along streams or rivers and along roads.


fireweed plant

The secret to Fireweed’s success is how fast it grows and colonizes an area. It does not compete well with other plants.

Fireweed is one of the first plants to grow in a burned over area or the gravel and mud left behind by high water along a river. This is where the name came from.

The stem streaks upward and puts out masses of flower heads. Even as new tube flowers open up old ones are making seeds. It is common to see all stages from developing flower heads to blooming ones to newly closed ones to puff balls of seeds on the same plant.

In spite of the vast numbers, hundreds to thousands of seeds a plant produces, most will end up as bird food or land in places unsuitable for the plant. I find it most commonly along the gravel bars of a river or along the edge of the gravel road where few other plants can grow.

Prairie Dogbane Apocynum cannabinum

Apocynum cannabinum L.

June to August                                             N                                 Family: Apocynaceae


Dogbane flowers

Dogbane flowers never open very far. They keep that tight bell shape with the scalloped edges.

Flower: Clusters of bell-shaped white to greenish white flowers tip the stems. Each flower bell has five triangular lobes on the rim. The pistil is a mound in the center of the flower.

Dogbane leaf

Dogbane leaves are opposite with short petioles. Their oval shape is much like that of common milkweed leading to incorrect identification.

Leaf: The opposite leaves have no or very short petioles. The leaf blade is bright green. The midvein and main side veins are almost white.

Dogbane stem

Dogbane stems are red. All of the stems, large or small are red.

Stem: The main stem is stout and has many opposite paired branches. The main stem reaches four feet. The stems are reddish.

Dogbane seed pods

Dogbane seed pods may look like bean pods but the seeds definitely don’t as they have tufts of hairs on the tops.

Fruit: The fruit is a long pod five or six inches in length. The seeds are lined up inside the pod. They are topped by a tuft of hairs.

Habitat: This plant is common along roads. It grows in a wide variety of places but likes to be in the sun.

Poisonous: All parts are poisonous.


Prairie Dogbane

Indian Hemp

Dogbane plant

Every dogbane branch can tip itself with a flower umbel. Only a few seem to produce pods and seeds.

Much of the summer Prairie Dogbane lines the roads. At times the stands of plants are thick enough to overwhelm all but seeding grasses. The plants send out rhizomes creating colonies that can become a problem in pastures.

Superficially dogbane resembles various milkweeds with its opposite leaves. Even Monarch butterflies get confused occasionally and lay eggs on dogbane but the luckless caterpillars do not survive. The easy distinguishing characteristic is the branches. Dogbane branches. Milkweeds do not.

Breaking a stem or tearing a leaf releases a white milky sap. This is poisonous and makes the entire plant poisonous. It has been used medicinally as a laxative. The plant has also been used to produce a dark tan to black dye.

The name cannabinum refers to the hemp qualities of the plant. Pioneer women would take the stems and rub them, twisting them in the process to make thread said to be stronger than cotton thread. These fibers were used for twine, nets, fabric and bowstrings.

Butterflies like the flowers and the plant flowers for several months. The plant is used for butterfly gardens but must be restrained or it will spread and overwhelm the entire area. It is drought tolerant and not very fussy about soils.

Musk Thistle, Beautiful Weed

People have shipped goods across the oceans for hundreds of years. Most of the goods shipped are wanted. A few like musk thistle are stowaways.

A few thistle seeds arrived in the United States in the mid-1800’s. Like most thistles, musk or nodding thistle took full advantage of the opportunity. Missouri joined many other states in 1909 declaring it a noxious weed.

musk thistle plant

Although stout the musk thistle stem is thin, only a half inch across. This lets the flowers bob in the breezes. Don’t grab hold as the stems are lined with long sharp spines.

My wildflower guidebook has a picture of a musk thistle but it definitely doesn’t do this flower justice. I noticed one along the highway because of its deep rose purple color.

The plant is about four feet tall and has several stalks tipped with these gorgeous flowers. Since I had never seen it before, I stopped to take pictures and admire it.

Missouri does have several native thistles. They are pink and showy but don’t have that show stopping color of a musk thistle.

musk thistle flower

The rich red purple color of the musk thistle flower head is also in the bracts behind it. The color is vivid.

All thistle flowers are really tightly packed bundles of tube flowers. Insects love them for their rich supply of nectar. They tromp over each flower head probing each tube flower and spreading pollen.

After a day or two, the numerous flowers get busy making seeds. Each seed is topped with white downy threads. The threads catch the wind letting the seeds drift off to new areas to colonize.

musk thistle flower bud

Even the bracts on the musk thistle flower bud are tipped with sharp spines.

Therein lies the problem with musk thistle. Each plant can produce up to ten thousand seeds. Many of these seeds will find a place to grow.

Nothing much wants to eat musk or nodding thistle because it is lined stem and leaves with long sharp spines. It is a leafy cactus.

musk thistle stem

The sharp spines on the musk thistle stems and leaves keep livestock from eating it and make it unwelcome in hay.

I went back to this musk thistle along the highway. That first flower was already making seeds. I took more pictures then cut it down. Since I know the people living in the house there, I let them know so they will keep it cut down.

For myself, if I had a flower garden, I would be sorely tempted to grow one or two of these thistles for their beauty. The important thing would be to keep any seeds from forming.

Luckily I don’t have a flower garden. I am glad to have had the opportunity to see this thistle. If you find one, admire it. But cut it down. They are a rancher’s nightmare once established in a field.