Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

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Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

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This tiny prostrate weed is a close relative of the colorful Moss Roses we grow in gardens—the thick, fleshy red stems and succulent leaves show the relationship clearly. The little yellow flowers open only in the morning, and only in bright sunlight; we shaded the plants momentarily to take these pictures at midday without the harsh glare. Purslanes can grow almost anywhere they get a foothold, and can survive being pulled up and thrown away to root elsewhere. In the city they are very common crack-in-the-sidewalk weeds. The plant above was growing from a crack on the top of a low concrete wall; the one below (magnified many times—the boulders in the picture are ordinary gravel) was growing in a gravel parking lot. Both were a little west of Cranberry, blooming in early September. Purslane was once commonly used as a salad green, valued for its texture rather than its famously bland taste.

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We are experimenting with a camera we bought used for $20 that claims to be able to focus as close as an inch from the subject. So far, we are pleased with the results.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

PORTULACA [Tourn.] L.  PURSLANE. Calyx 2-cleft; the tube cohering with the ovary below. Petals 5, rarely 6, inserted on the calyx with the 7-20 stamens, fugacious. Style mostly 3-8-parted. Pod 1-celled, globular, many-seeded, opening transversely, the upper part (with the upper part of the calyx) separating as a lid. — Fleshy annuals, with mostly scattered leaves. (An old Latin name, of unknown meaning.)

P. olerácea L. (COMMON P.) Prostrate, very smooth; leaves obovate or wedge-form ; flowers sessile (opening only in sunny mornings); sepals keeled; petals pale yellow; stamens 7-12 ; style deeply 5-6-parted; flower-bud flat and acute. — Cultivated and waste grounds; common.—Seemingly indigenous westw. and southwestw. (Nat. from Eu.)

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)

Hieracium-aurantiacum-2013-09-02-Fox-Chapel-02Until today we had not found this plant in the city of Pittsburgh, though it is ubiquitous north of a line that roughly bisects Pennsylvania from east to west. This plant, however, was one of a number growing in a lawn in Highland Park, where it was blooming at the beginning of September.

There is no mistaking this plant for anything else. There are many flowers that look like small dandelions, but only one is bright orange—a rare color among flowers, otherwise represented here mostly by Daylilies and Orange Touch-Me-Nots.

We had previously collected a picture of this species from Crawford County, and we repeat our remarks:

Also called “Devil’s Paintbrush,” on the principle that attributes anything striking or bright in nature to satanic forces. Gray gives another name, Grim the Collier, that refers to a traditional character who gets the best of the devil in folk tales, putting our subject on the side of good rather than evil.

This would be an ordinary dandelion-like weed, except that the flowers are bright orange, making it one of our showiest wild flowers. It seldom or never [obviously this is not true] comes as far south as the city of Pittsburgh itself, but begins to be seen in the northern fringes of our area, and becomes quite common farther north in Pennsylvania.

This species is often placed in the genus Pilosella, but there seems to be much uncertainty. The imperfectly omniscient Wikipedia leads us on a merry chase: Hieracium aurantiacum redirects to Pilosella aurantiaca, but Pilosella redirects to Hieracium. [This is still true three years later.]

Gray describes the genus and the species:

HIERACIUM [Tourn.] L. HAWKWEED
Heads 12-many-flowered. Involucre more or less imbricated. Achenes short, oblong or columnar, striate, not beaked; pappus a single row of tawny and fragile capillary rough bristles. —Hispid or hirsute and often glandular perennials, with entire or toothed leaves, and single or panicled heads of mostly yellow flowers; summer and early autumn. (Name from hierax, a hawk.)

* Flowers orange-red.

H. aurantiacum L. (ORANGE H., DEVIL’S PAINT-BRUSH, GRIM THE COLLIER.) Long-hirsute; leaves oblanceolate, 6-15 cm. long, green on both sides; a stolons numerous, slender; scape 2-6 dm. high, usually 1-2-bracted; heads about 2 cm. broad. Fields, etc., e. Que. to Ont. and Pa., locally too abundant. June, July. (Nat. from Eu.)

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Verbena-hastata-2013-08-14-Schenley-Park-01The tiny flowers of this cheerful plant make a fine display—not too ostentatious, but elegant and striking. This one was growing in a field in Schenley Park, where it was blooming in the middle of August.

More pictures of this species are here, where you will also find quite a bit of lore taken from old books.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

VERBENA [Tourn.] L. VERVAIN. Calyx 5-toothed, one of the teeth often shorter than the others. Corolla tubular, often curved, salver-form; the border somewhat unequally 5-cleft. Stamens included, the upper pair occasionally without anthers. Style slender; stigma mostly 2-lobed. — Flowers sessile, in single or often panicled spikes, bracted, produced all summer. (The Latin name for any sacred herb; derivation obscure.) — The species present numerous spontaneous hybrids.

§ 1. Anthers not appendaged; flowers small, in slender spikes.

Spikes thicker or densely flowered; the fruits crowded, mostly overlapping one another; bracts inconspicuous, not exceeding the flowers; perennial.

V. hastàta L. (blue V.) Tall (0.5-2 m. high); leaves lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, taper-pointed, cut-serrate, petioled, the lower often lobed and sometimes halberd-shaped at base; spikes linear, erect,corymbed or panicled; flowers violet-blue (rarely pink or white). —Damp grounds, etc.

 

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