Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Boraginaceae

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), pink form

The pink form is uncommon, but if you come across a patch of bluebells that covers an acre or more, like the one along the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel where these flowers were blooming in early May, some of them are likely to nonstandard colors—pink, pale blue, lavender, or white.

Gray describes the genus and the species (though he seems not to have run across any pink flowers):

MERTENSIA Roth. LUNGWORT

Corolla longer than the deeply 5-cleft or 5-parted calyx, naked, or with 5 small glandular folds or appendages in the open throat. Anthers oblong or arrow-shaped. Style long and thread-form. Nutlets ovoid, fleshy when fresh, smooth or wrinkled, obliquely attached by a prominent internal angle; the scar small. Smooth or soft-hairy perennial herbs, with pale and entire leaves, and handsome purplish-blue (rarely white) flowers, in loose and short panicled or corymbed raceme-like clusters, only the lower one leafy-bracted; pedicels slender. (Named for Franz Karl Mertens, a German botanist.)

Corolla trumpet-shaped, with spreading nearly entire limb and naked throat; filaments slender, exserted; hypogynous disk 2-lobed.

M. virginica (L.) Link. (VIRGINIAN COWSLIP, BLUEBELLS.) Very smooth, pale, erect, 2-6 dm. high; leaves obovate, veiny, those at the root 1-1.5 dm. long, petioled; corolla trumpet-shaped, 2-2.5 cm. long, many times exceeding the calyx, light blue (pinkish in bud), rarely white; nutlets dull and roughish. Alluvial banks, N. Y. and Ont. to Neb., and southw. Apr., May.


Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

Brunnera-macrophylla-2013-05-03-Bird-Park-01Flora Pittsburghensis makes an important original contribution to the botanical literature. Brunnera macrophylla is recorded as naturalized in Ohio and New York, but not in Pennsylvania. We have found it, however, deep in the woods in Bird Park in Mount Lebanon, some distance from any cultivated planting.

Siberian Bugloss looks very much like a species of Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis spp.), but is easily distinguished by its large heart-shaped leaves (thus the specific name macrophylla, which means “large-leaved”). These plants grew in Bird Park in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming at the beginning of May.

Gray does not describe this species, but the quick description above should make identification straightforward.


Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Easily recognized by its columns of vivid blue flowers; seen most often beside railroads or along roadsides. This is certainly one of our most decorative weeds. These plants were blooming in mid-June at the edge of a parking lot in New Stanton.

Once in a while a plant will appear with pink flowers, usually fading to blue after they have been open for a while; a picture of one such is here.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ÈCHIUM [Tourn.] L. VIPER’S BUGLOSS. Corolla with a cylindraceous or funnel-form tube; lobes rounded, spreading. Stamens mostly exserted, unequal. Style thread-form. Nutlets roughened or wrinkled, fixed by a flat base. (A plant name used by Dioscorides from echisa viper.)

E. VULGARE L. (BLUE-WEED, BLUE DEVIL.) Rough-bristly biennial; stem erect, 3-9 dm. high; stem-leaves linear-lanceolate, sessile; flowers showy, in short lateral clusters, disposed in a long and narrow thyrse or in an open panicle; buds pink; corolla brilliant blue (rarely pale or roseate). Roadsides and meadows, locally abundant. June-Sept. (Nat. from Eu.)

Mrs. Dana, in How to Know the Wild Flowers, has this to say about our subject:

When the blueweed first came to us from across the sea it secured a foothold in Virginia. Since then it has gradually worked its way northward, lining the Hudson’s shores, overrunning many of the dry fields in its vicinity, and making itself at home in parts of New England. We should be obliged to rank it among the “pestiferous” weeds were it not that, as a rule, it only seeks to monopolize land which is not good for very much else. The pinkish buds and bright blue blossoms, with their red protruding stamens, make a valuable addition, from the aesthetic point of view, to the bunch of midsummer field-flowers in which hitherto the various shades of red and yellow have predominated.

In Wild Flowers Worth Knowing, Neltje Blanchan adds some of the traditional lore of the plant:

Years ago, when simple folk believed God had marked plants with some sign to indicate the special use for which each was intended, they regarded the spotted stem of the bugloss, and its seeds shaped like a serpent’s head, as certain indications that the herb would cure snake bites. Indeed, the genus takes its name from Echis, the Greek viper.


Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Beautiful purple flowers bear more than a passing resemblance to their cousins the Virginia Bluebells. Comfrey is a European import brought here as part of the herbalist’s basic tool kit. It was used to treat digestive problems, but it contains poisons that could kill you, though you might die with excellent digestion. It has also been used as an ointment for treating wounds, but applying it to broken skin can also get the poison into your system. So perhaps it’s best just to enjoy the beauty of the flowers, and leave medicine to the pill peddlers.

Comfrey likes wet feet: this plant was growing beside a stream in Manor, Westmoreland County.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

SÝMPHYTUM [Tourn.] L. COMFREY. Corolla 5-toothed, the short teeth spreading. Stamens included; anthers elongated. Style thread-form. Nutlets erect, fixed by the large hollowed base, which is finely toothed on its margin. — Coarse perennial herbs, with thickened bitterish mucilaginous roots; the nodding raceme-like clusters either single or in pairs. (Ancient Greek name from symphyein, to cause to grow together, probably for its reputed healing virtues.)

S. officinàle L. (COMMON C.) Hairy, branched; upper leaves deeurrent upon the stem in broad cuneate wings, the lower large, ovate or ovate-lanceolate; calyx-segments lance-linear; corolla yellowish- or pinkish-white to bluish- or roseate-purple; nutlets nearly smooth, somewhat shining. — Moist places, escaped from gardens. June, July. (Introd. from Eu.)


Beggar’s Lice (Hackelia virginiana)

The name seems to suppose that a beggar cannot afford real lice, which is a strange little piece of folk wisdom. This is one of those hitchhiker plants that spread themselves by sticking to your clothes, or to animals’ fur. This particular patch was growing among taller flowers on a sunny bank in Mount Lebanon, where it was blooming in late July.

Flowers.—The flowers grow on indefinitely long stems, one flower blooming at a time, with a cluster of buds dangling beneath the open flower, and developing seedpods in a line down the stem. As they develop, the “nutlets” grow grasping hairs. Each flower has five small white petals, regular, almost round.

Stems.—Covered with soft hair; up to about 4 and a half feet tall (about 1.5 m); many branches, held almost horizontally, with the seedpods dangling like bells along the underside.

Leaves.—Covered with soft hair, alternate, sessile or nearly so, shaped like an ellipse with tapered points at both ends.

Gray includes Hackelia in the genus Lappula:

LAPPULA [Rivinius] Moench. STICKSEED.

Corolla salver-form, short, imbricated in the bud. Stamens included. Nutlets fixed to the base of the style or central column, triangular or compressed, the back armed with prickles which are barbed at the apex, otherwise naked. — Rough-hairy and grayish herbs, with small blue to whitish flowers in racemes or spikes; flowering all summer. (Name a diminutive of lappa, a bur.) ECHINOSPERMUM Sw.

Slender pedicels recurved or deflexed in fruit; calyx-lobes short, at length reflexed; biennial or perennial, not hispid.

L. virginiàna (L.) Greene. (BEGGAR’S LICE.) Stem 3-12 dm. high; radical leaves round-ovate or cordate, slender-petioled; cauline 0.5-2.6 dm. long, ovate-oblong to oblong-lanceolate, acuminate at both ends; loosely paniculate racemes divaricate; pedicel and flower each about 2 mm. long; nutlets of the globose fruit equally short-glochidiate over the whole back. (Echinospermum virginicum Lehm.) — Woods, thickets, and waysides, Me. and w. Que., westw. and southw.


Virginia Bluebells, white form (Mertensia virginica)

The sky-blue form is most common, but Bluebells come in a range of colors from white through pale lilac to pink as well as blue. The other colors are rare, but common enough that in a large patch you’ll usually find some of them. This plant grew in the Squaw Run valley in Fox Chapel, where it was blooming in late April.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

MERTENSIA Roth. LUNGWORT

Corolla longer than the deeply 5-cleft or 5-parted calyx, naked, or with 5 small glandular folds or appendages in the open throat. Anthers oblong or arrow-shaped. Style long and thread-form. Nutlets ovoid, fleshy when fresh, smooth or wrinkled, obliquely attached by a prominent internal angle ; the scar small. Smooth or soft-hairy perennial herbs, with pale and entire leaves, and handsome purplish-blue (rarely white) flowers, in loose and short panicled or corymbed raceme-like clusters, only the lower one leafy-bracted; pedicels slender. (Named for Franz Karl Mertens, a German botanist.)

* Corolla trumpet-shaped, with spreading nearly entire limb and naked throat; filaments slender, exserted; hypogynous disk 2-lobed.

M. virginica (L.) Link. (VIRGINIAN COWSLIP, BLUEBELLS.) Very smooth, pale, erect, 2-6 dm. high; leaves obovate, veiny, those at the root 1-1.5 dm. long, petioled; corolla trumpet-shaped, 2-2.5 cm. long, many times exceeding the calyx, light blue (pinkish in bud), rarely white; nutlets dull and roughish. Alluvial banks, N. Y. and Ont. to Neb., and southw. Apr., May.


Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides)

Myosotis-scorpioides-2009-10-22-Wexford-01

The “true” Forget-Me-Not is a European import that makes itself at home along brooks and streams; these grew by a little tributary of the Pine Creek near Wexford. Though Forget-Me-Nots are famously blue, we often see pink ones as well. On these particular plants, the newer flowers are pink, fading to blue as they age.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

MYOSOTIS [Rupp.] L. SCORPION-GRASS. FORGET-ME-NOT
Corolla-tube about the length of the 6-toothed or 5-cleft calyx, the throat with 5 small and blunt arching appendages opposite the rounded lobes; the latter convolute in the bud! Stamens included, on very short filaments. Nutlets compressed. Low and mostly soft-hairy herbs, with entire leaves, those of the stem sessile, and with small flowers in naked racemes, which are entirely bractless, or occasionally with small leaves next the base, prolonged and straightened in fruit. (Name composed of myos, mouse, and os, ear, from the short and soft leaves in some species.)

M. scorpiodes. (TRUE F.) Perennial; stems ascending from an oblique creeping base, 3-7 dm. high, loosely branched, smoothish; leaves  rough-pubescent, oblong-lanceolate or linear-oblong; calyx-lobes much shorter than its tube; limb of corolla 5-8 mm. broad, sky-blue, with a yellow eye. (M. palustris Hill.) In wet ground, Nfd. to w. N. Y., and southw. May-Sept. (Nat. from Eu.)


Smaller Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis laxa)

Myosotis-laxa-2009-10-05-01

Normally found near streams, but this plant was happy by a city sidewalk in Beechview, on the shady north side of a house near the exit of a drainpipe. Here we see it much enlarged; for a sense of scale, note the chain-link fence in the background.

Although Gray’s ambiguous note “(Eu.)” might seem to mean that the species comes from Europe, it seems rather to be a native species that also occurs in Europe.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

MYOSOTIS [Rupp.] L. SCORPION-GRASS. FORGET-ME-NOT
Corolla-tube about the length of the 6-toothed or 5-cleft calyx, the throat with 5 small and blunt arching appendages opposite the rounded lobes; the latter convolute in the bud! Stamens included, on very short filaments. Nutlets compressed. Low and mostly soft-hairy herbs, with entire leaves, those of the stem sessile, and with small flowers in naked racemes, which are entirely bractless, or occasionally with small leaves next the base, prolonged and straightened in fruit. (Name composed of myos, mouse, and os, ear, from the short and soft leaves in some species.)

M. laxa Lehm. Perennial from filiform subterranean shoots; stems very slender, decumbent; pubescence all appressed; leaves lanceolate-oblong or somewhat spatulate; calyx-lobes as long as the tube; limb of corolla rarely 5 mm. broad, paler blue. In water and wet ground, Nfd. to Ont., and southw. May-Aug. (Eu.)


Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

2009-09-25-Echium vulgare-01

A rough and hairy plant whose deep blue flowers stand out in a field or roadside meadow. Occasionally new flowers are pink fading to purple, as we see here. This specimen grew by a disused railroad siding in Oakmont.

From Gray’s Manual of Botany: E. VULGARE L. (BLUE-WEED, BLUE DEVIL.) Rough-bristly biennial; stem erect, 3-9 dm. high; stem-leaves linear-lanceolate, sessile; flowers showy, in short lateral clusters, disposed in a long and narrow thyrse or in an open panicle; buds pink; corolla brilliant blue (rarely pale or roseate). Roadsides and meadows, locally abundant. June-Sept. (Nat. from Eu.)


Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Mertensia-virginica-02

The distinctive arch of the stem marks this as a member of the borage or forget-me-not family. Virginia bluebells bloom in late April and early May in open woodlands and shady moist areas; these grew near the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel.


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