Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Plantaginaceae

Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

These stately, slender perennials have lately become favorites in the garden trade. In the wild, they grow white or yellow flowers. The yellow flowers seem to be more common in most places, but the white ones (var. albiflorum, according to Gray) are far more common in Pittsburgh. Gardeners have bred a number of attractive pastels. A close look (click to enlarge the picture above) reveals the “filaments all bearded with violet wool,” as Gray describes them.

The plants like to grow in a clear spot at the edge of the woods, as they did here on a hillside in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming in the middle of July.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

VERBASCUM [Tourn.] L. MULLEIN. Calyx 5-parted. Corolla 5-lobed, open or concave; the lobes broad and rounded, a little unequal. Style flattened at the apex. Capsule globular, many-seeded. Tall and usually woolly biennial herbs; the leaves of the stem sessile, often decurrent. Flowers in large terminal spikes or racemes, ephemeral, in summer. (The ancient Latin name, altered from Barbascum.)

V. blattaria L. (MOTH M.) Green and smoothish, or somewhat glandular-pubescent above, slender; lower leaves petioled, oblong, doubly serrate, sometimes lyre-shaped, the upper partly clasping; raceme loose, the pedicels longer than the fruit; filaments all bearded with violet wool. Roadsides and waste places, w. Me. to Ont., and southw., local. Corolla either yellow, or (in var. albiflorum Ktze.) white with a tinge of purple. (Nat. from Eu.)

In Wild Flowers Worth Knowing, the Moth Mullein is described thus:

Moth Mullein

Verbascum blattaria

Flowers–Yellow, or frequently white, 5-parted, about 1 in. broad, marked with brown; borne on spreading pedicles in a long, loose raceme; all the filaments with violet hairs; 1 protruding pistil. Stem: Erect, slender, simple, about 2 ft. high, sometimes less, or much taller. Leaves: Seldom present at flowering time; oblong to ovate, toothed, mostly sessile, smooth.

Preferred Habitat–Dry, open waste land; roadsides, fields.

Flowering Season–June-November.

Distribution–Naturalized from Europe and Asia, more or less common throughout the United States and Canada.

“Of beautiful weeds quite a long list might be made without including any of the so-called wild flowers,” says John Burroughs. “A favorite of mine is the little Moth Mullein that blooms along the highway, and about the fields, and maybe upon the edge of the lawn.” Even in winter, when the slender stem, set with round brown seed-vessels, rises above the snow, the plant is pleasing to the human eye, as it is to that of hungry birds.


Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

These intensely blue flowers are so tiny that we often overlook them in our lawns, but they are one of the first cheerful signs of spring. They are alien invaders, and perhaps they have caused untold damage to our environment; but it’s hard to be angry at a plant that’s both tiny and beautiful. These plants were blooming in early May along the Salamander Trail in Fox Chapel..

The flowers of the Persian Speedwell have yellow centers, fading to white veined with blue, the blue predominating toward the outer edges of the petals, and giving the overall impression of a blue flower from a short distance. The leaves are roundish, sessile near the top of thestem and on short petioles below, gently toothed, somewhat hairy. The plant seldom exceeds the height of a few inches, and can often pass unmolested under a lawnmower blade.

This description will have to do, since Gray and his contemporaries did not describe the plant. Between their time and ours it has spread to every state in the union except Hawaii and North Dakota.


English Plantain

These ubiquitous weeds are found in every lawn, in sidewalk cracks, along the edge of the street, and anywhere else they can gain a foothold; these particular plants were growing along the roadside in Highland Park, where they were blooming in the middle of June. They are actually relatives (according to modern genetic studies) of our garden snapdragons, to which, however, they bear little superficial resemblance. The unmistakable flower heads look like some imaginative artist’s conception of plant life on another planet. A tea made from the leaves supposedly has benefit against coughs, but as with all herbal medicines that have not been adequately studied, one must place a heavy emphasis on the word “supposedly.”

Gray describes the genus and the species:

PLANTÀGO [Tourn.] L. PLANTAIN, RIBWORT. Calyx of 4 imbricated persistent sepals, mostly with dry membranaceous margins. Corolla salver-form or rotate, withering on the pod, the border 4- parted. Stamens 4, or rarely 2, in all or some flowers with long and weak exserted filaments, and fugacious 2-celled anthers. Ovary 2 (or in P. decipiens falsely 3-4)-celled, with 1-several ovules in each cell. Style and long hairy stigma single, filiform. Capsule 2-celled, 2-several-seeded, opening transversely, во that the top falls off like a lid and the loose partition (which bears the peltate seeds) falls away. Embryo straight, in fleshy albumen. — Leaves ribbed. Flowers whitish, small, in a bracted spike or head, raised on a naked scape. (The Latin name.)

P. lanceolàta, L. (RIB GRASS, RIPPLE GRASS, ENGLISH P.) Mostly hairy; scape grooved-angled, at length much longer than the lanceolate or lance-oblong leaves, slender, 2-7 dm. high; spike dense, at first capitate, in age cylindrical; bracts and sepals scarious, brownish ; seeds 2, hollowed on the face. — Very common in grass land. (Nat. from Eu.)


Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Adaptable to many different lighting conditions; we wrote earlier that Foxglove Beardtongue “likes a sunny open field or clearing, although it will tolerate some shade,” but this one was growing in quite deep shade in a thicket in Schenley Park. It was blooming in early June.

A relative of snapdragons and Butter-and-Eggs, this cheery flower also bears a passing resemblance to a foxglove, whence both the common and scientific names. The name “Beardtongue” comes from the hairy stamen visible in each flower.

Most earlier botanical references spell the genus name Pentstemon, which may be more etymologically correct but apparently is not the way it was spelled in the original description.

Traditionally, botanists placed snapdragons and their allies in the Snapdragon or Figwort family, Scrophulariaceae; but modern genetic research has led botanists to move them into the Plantain family, Plantaginaceae.

The pictures in this particular article have been donated to Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. No permission is needed to use them for any purpose whatsoever.

Gray makes this species a variety of P. laevigatus, so we turn to Alphonso Wood for a description of the genus and the species more in line with the consensus of modern botanists:

PENTSTEMON, L. Beard-tongue. Calyx deeply 5-cleft. Cor. elongated, often ventricous, lower lip 3-lobed, spreading. The fifth filament (tongue) sterile, bearded, longer than the rest or about as long; anth. smooth. Seeds numerous, angular, not margined. Perennial N. American, branching, paniculate. Leaves opposite, the lower petiolate, upper sessile or clasping. Flowers showy, red, violet, blue, or white, in Summer.

Native E. of the Mississippi River, sometimes cultivated.

Leaves undivided, serrulate. Sterile filament (tongue) bearded.

P. digitalis N. Glabrous; leaves elliptic to lanceolate, the upper clasping; flowers many, large, corolla tube abruptly enlarged to bell-form, pale blue or purplish, 12—15″ long, throat widely open, beardless. Rich soils, Pa., W. and S.


Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

Veronica-persica-2013-03-30-Beechview-01

These intensely blue flowers are so tiny that we often overlook them in our lawns, but they are one of the first cheerful signs of spring. They are alien invaders, and perhaps they have caused untold damage to our environment; but it’s hard to be angry at a plant that’s both tiny and beautiful. This plant was one of a patch growing in a lawn in Beechview, where it was blooming at the end of March.

The flowers of the Persian Speedwell have yellow centers, fading to white veined with blue, the blue predominating toward the outer edges of the petals, and giving the overall impression of a blue flower from a short distance. The leaves are roundish, sessile near the top of thestem and on short petioles below, gently toothed, somewhat hairy. The plant seldom exceeds the height of a few inches, and can often pass unmolested under a lawnmower blade.

This description will have to do, since Gray and his contemporaries did not describe the plant. Between their time and ours it has spread to every state in the union except Hawaii and North Dakota.


Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

A relative of snapdragons and Butter-and-Eggs, this cheery flower also bears a passing resemblance to a foxglove, whence both the common and scientific names. The name “Beardtongue” comes from the hairy stamen visible in each flower. The plant likes a sunny open field or clearing, although it will tolerate some shade; this plant was blooming in early June in a clearing in Scott Township.

Most earlier botanical references spell the genus name Pentstemon, which may be more etymologically correct but apparently is not the way it was spelled in the original description.

Traditionally, botanists placed snapdragons and their allies in the Snapdragon or Figwort family, Scrophulariaceae; but modern genetic research has led botanists to move them into the Plantain family, Plantaginaceae.

Gray makes this species a variety of P. laevigatus, so we turn to Alphonso Wood for a description of the genus and the species more in line with the consensus of modern botanists:

PENTSTEMON, L. Beard-tongue. Calyx deeply 5-cleft. Cor. elongated, often ventricous, lower lip 3-lobed, spreading. The fifth filament (tongue) sterile, bearded, longer than the rest or about as long; anth. smooth. Seeds numerous, angular, not margined. Perennial N. American, branching, paniculate. Leaves opposite, the lower petiolate, upper sessile or clasping. Flowers showy, red, violet, blue, or white, in Summer.

Native E. of the Mississippi River, sometimes cultivated.

Leaves undivided, serrulate. Sterile filament (tongue) bearded.

P. digitalis N. Glabrous; leaves elliptic to lanceolate, the upper clasping; flowers many, large, corolla tube abruptly enlarged to bell-form, pale blue or purplish, 12—15″ long, throat widely open, beardless. Rich soils, Pa., W. and S.


Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

A bumblebee stuffs its head into one of the little snapdragon flowers of Butter-and-Eggs; the plant was growing beside a sidewalk in Beechview, where it was blooming in late June.

Butter-and-Eggs is very common in the city, and along roadsides in the suburbs. It can sprout almost anywhere; it blooms for a long time; and it seems impervious to abuse. It’s one of our most beautiful weeds, and if it were at all rarer it would be a treasured garden flower.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

LINÀRIA [Toum.] Hill. TOADFLAX. Calyx 5-parted. Corolla spurred at base on the lower side (in abnormal specimens sometimes regularly 5-spurred). Capsule thin, opening below the summit by 1 or more pores or chinks. Seeds many. —Herbs, with at least all the upper leaves alternate (in ours), flowering in summer. (Name from Linum, the Flax, which some species resemble in their foliage.)

Erect or ascending, with narrow entire leaves.

Flowers yellow.

L. vulgaris Hill. (RAMSTED, BUTTER AND EGGS.) Glabrous, erect, 1.3 m. or less high; leaves pale, linear or nearly so, extremely numerous, subaltérnate; raceme dense; corolla 2-3 cm. long or more, including the slender subulate spur; seeds winged. — Fields and roadsides, throughout our range. (Nat from Eu.)


Common Plantain (Plantago major)

Insignificant and ubiquitous, this common weed is nevertheless elegantly constructed, as a close view of the flower spike shows us.  The plant lifts a number of green obelisks into the air from a rosette of spoon-shaped leaves, and dozens or hundreds of tiny white flowers burst forth  along each obelisk. The show is over quickly, leaving nothing but a weedy green stem, but it’s worth getting out a magnifying glass while the flowers are in bloom.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

PLANTÀGO [Tourn.] L. PLANTAIN. RIBWORT. Calyx of 4 imbricated persistent sepals, mostly with dry membranaceous margins. Corolla salver-form or rotate, withering on the pod, the border 4-parted. Stamens 4, or rarely 2, in all or some flowers with long and weak exserted filaments, and fugacious 2-celled anthers. Ovary 2 (or in no. 6 [P. decipiens] falsely 3-4)-celled, with 1-several ovules in each cell. Style and long hairy stigma single, filiform. Capsule 2-celled, 2-several-seeded, opening transversely, во that the top falls off like a lid and the loose partition (which bears the peltate seeds) falls away. Embryo straight, in fleshy albumen. — Leaves ribbed. Flowers whitish, small, in a bracted spike or head, raised on a naked scape. (The Latin name.)

P. major L. (common P.) Smooth or rather hairy, sometimes roughish; leaves thick and leathery, 0.6-3 dm. long, the blade from broad-elliptic to cordateovate, undulate or more or less toothed, the broad petiole channeled; scapes 1.6-0 dm. high, commonly curved-ascending; spike dense, obtuse, becoming 1-4 dm. long; sepals round-ovate or obovate; capsule ovoid, circumscissile near the middle, 8-18-seeded; seeds angled, reticulated. — Waysides and near dwellings, exceedingly common. Fig. 002.—Sometimes with leafy-bracted scapes or with paniculate-branched inflorescences. (Cosmopolitan.)


Speedwell (Veronica officinalis)

Surely these would be some of our most treasured ornamentals if they were just a little larger. Other members of the genus Veronica find honored places in our gardens, but the tiny Common Speedwells pass unnoticed under our lawn mowers. They’re worth examining closely. Magnified, as here, they turn out to be spectacular flowers. They’re found everywhere lawn grass is found; this one was blooming in Mount Lebanon at the end of April.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

VERONICA [Tourn.] L. SPEEDWELL

The lateral lobes of the corolla or the lowest one commonly narrower than the others. Stamens 2, one each side of the upper lobe of the corolla, exserted; anther-cells confluent at the apex. Style entire; stigma single. Capsule flat- tened, obtuse or notched at the apex, 2-celled, few-many-seeded. Chiefly herbs ; flowers blue, flesh-color, or white. (Derivation doubtful; perhaps the flower of St. Veronica.)

V. officinalis L. (COMMON S.) Pubescent; stem prostrate, rooting at base ; leaves short-petioled, obovate-elliptical or wedge-oblong, obtuse, serrate; racemes densely many-flowered; pedicels shorter than the calyx; capsule obovate- triangular, broadly notched. Dry hills and open woods, Nfd. to Ont., Mich., and southw. May-Aug. (Eurasia.)


Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

A common lawn weed that’s so tiny we usually overlook it. Up close, however, the sky-blue flowers are beautiful, and they are among the first wild flowers to appear in spring. This plant was blooming two days before the official beginning of spring in a lawn in Beechview.


Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)

Antirrhinum-majus-2009-11-03-Beechview-01

Snapdragons are popular garden flowers that originate in the Mediterranean region, where they grow as perennials. Here thay’re happy to grow as annuals, liberally seeding themselves and popping up in unlikely places. This one was part of a small colony growing from a little crack in the pavement at the edge of a street in Beechview, where it was happily blooming in early November. They can bloom till Christmas if there are no very hard freezes.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ANTIRRHINUM [Tourn.] L. SNAPDRAGON
Calyx 5-parted. Corolla-tube saccate or gibbous in front, not spurred; the lower lip 3-lobed, spreading, developed at the base into a prominent palate, which nearly or quite closes the throat; upper lip erect, shortly 2-lobed. Stamens 4, didynamous, included; anther-cells distinct and parallel. Ours herbaceous plants with lance-oblong to linear entire leaves and axillary or racemose flowers. (Name from anti, in the sense of like, and rhis, a snout, in reference doubtless to the peculiar form of the corolla.)

A. MAJUS L. Perennial, glandular-pubescent and somewhat viscid; leaves lance-oblong; calyx-lobes ovate or oblong, short; corolla crimson, white, or variegated, 2-3 cm. long. Commonly cultivated, and occasionally found as an escape. (Introd. from Eu.)


Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

2009-09-25-Linaria-Vulgaris-01

Also called Toadflax, these common roadside snapdragons are nearly as showy as their cultivated cousins. They bloom all summer, and they have no objection to a crack in the sidewalk if they can’t find posher quarters. Once placed in the family Scrophulariaceae, but now, thanks to these newfangled genetic studies, removed to the plantain family.

From Gray’s Manual of Botany: Linaria vulgaris Hill. (RAMSTED, BUTTER AND EGGS.) Glabrous, erect, 1.3 m. or less high; leaves pale, linear or nearly so, extremely numerous, subalternate ; raceme dense ; corolla 2-3 cm. long or more, including the slender subulate spur ; seeds winged. Fields and roadsides, throughout our range. (Nat. from Eu.)