Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh


Moonseed (Menispermum canadense)

A vine that looks a bit like a cucumber and a bit like a grape. The little clusters of white flowers hide among the leaves; much later, clusters of poisonous grape-like berries, easily mistaken for wild grapes, decorate the plant to lure the unwary. This vine was blooming in early June in Frick Park.

Gray describes the genus and the species, which is the only member of the family Menispermaceae in our area:

MENISPÉRMUM [Tourn.] L. MOONSEED. Sepals 4-8. Petals 6-8, short. Stamens 12-24 in the sterile flowers, as long as the sepals; anthers 4-celled. Pistils 2-4 in the fertile flowers, raised on a short common receptacle; stigma broad and flat. Drupe globular, the mark of the stigma near the base, the ovary in its growth after flowering being strongly incurved so that the (wrinkled and grooved) laterally flattened stone takes the form of a large crescent or ring. The slender embryo therefore is horseshoe-shaped; cotyledons filiform. — Flowers white, in small and loose axillary panicles. (Name from mene, moon, and sperma, seed.)

M. canadénse L. Leaves peltate near the edge, 8-7-angled or -lobed. — Banks of streams, w. Que. and w. N. E., westw. and southw. June, July. — Drupes black with a bloom, ripe in September, looking like frost grapes.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Also called Moneywort, from the rounded leaves. A garden creeper that can be invasive when it escapes the garden; these patches were blooming in Salamander Park, Fox Chapel, in early June. The plant looks a little like Lesser Celandine, but blooms long after the Lesser Celandine has vanished. Note the creeping stems with short-petioled, opposite roundish heart-shaped leaves and the five-petaled flowers.

Gray describes the genus and the species, which he puts in the Lysimastrum section of the genus:

LYSIMÀCHIA [Tourn.] L. LOOSESTRIFE. Calyx 5-6-parted. Corolla rotate, the divisions entire, convolute in bud. Filaments commonly monadelphous at base; anthers oblong or oval. Capsule few-several-seeded. — Leafy-stemmed perennials, with herbage commonly glandular-dotted. (In honor of King Lysimachus, or from lysis, a release from, and mache, strife.)

LYSIMASTRUM Duby. Corolla yellow, rotate, very deeply parted, and with no teeth between the lobes; stamens more or less monadelphous, often unequal; leaves opposite or whorled, or some abnormally alternate.

Flowers 2-3 cm. broad, solitary in the axils of ordinary leaves; corolla not dark-dotted nor streaked; filaments slightly monadelphous.

L. nummularia L. (Moneywort.) Smooth; stems trailing and creeping; leaves roundish, small, short-petioled; divisions of the corolla broadly ovate, obtuse, longer than the lance-ovate calyx-lobes and stamens. — Escaped from gardens into damp ground in some places. June-Aug. (Introd. from Eu.)

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Also known as Cranesbill, because of the distinctive seedpods that look like the head of a long-billed bird. The “bill” is an ingenious spring-loaded mechanism that, when the pod dries, suddenly releases and flings the seeds into the air with amazing force.

Wild Geranium is a popular garden perennial for shady yards; its close relatives, the florists’ geraniums (which have similar crane’s-bill seedpods), are placed in the genus Pelargonium by botanists. This plant was blooming in the middle of May near the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

GERANIUM [Tourn.] L. CRANESBILL. Stamens 10 (rarely 6), all with perfect anthers, the 5 longer with glands at their base (alternate with the petals). Styles smooth inside in fruit when they separate from the axis. Stems forking. Peduncles 1-3-flowered. (An old Greek name, from geranos, a crane; the long fruit-bearing beak thought to resemble the bill of that bird.)

G. maculatum L. (WILD G.) Erect, hairy; leaves about 5-parted, the wedge-shaped divisions lobed and cut at the end; sepals slender-pointed; pedicels and beak of fruit hairy but not glandular; petals entire, light purple, bearded on the claw. Open woods and fields, centr. Me. to Man., and southw. Apr.-July.

In Our Common Wild Flowers of Springtime and Autumn, Alice Mary Dowd gives us this copious description of the Wild Geranium and its habits:


In May and June the wild geranium blossoms in the open woods and by shady roadsides. Its flowers, pale purple or pink, measure an inch or more across. They are very delicate and wither soon when picked unless they are placed in water immediately. The leaves are deeply cut and usually have five lobes. The lower ones have long stems. The upper ones are opposite and a longstemmed flower-cluster rises from between them. At the base of each leaf-stalk are two small, narrow leaves called stipules. The plant is sometimes called spotted geranium, because its leaves are marked with white blotches.

Not only the leaves and stems are hairy but the sepals too are edged with a row of hairs and the petals have little tufts of white hairs on each side at the base.

Thus the whole plant presents ways beset with difficulties to crawling intruders, and the nectar at the base of each petal is guarded from insects and from moisture.

There are ten stamens in two rows, and the outer five shed their pollen first. A magnifying glass shows us purple lines where the anthers split, and large, white, shining grains of pollen. Not until the pollen has all been scattered does the stigma open its. five fingers. Thus the flower is quite incapable of producing seed without the aid of the bees, who bring it pollen from a younger flower.

What seems to be one pistil is a cluster of five pistils attached to a central axis, which increases in length after the petals have fallen. It is this long beak that gave the plant its name crane’s bill, and the same meaning is in the name geranium, which comes from the Greek word for crane.

When the seeds are ripe the pistils split away from the base of the axis and coil upward; and the seeds, that were held within as if in the hollows of their hands, are thrown out to find a place for themselves in the world, away from the parent plant.

In moist, rocky woods and ravines grows a smaller wild geranium called herb Robert. Its leaves are finely cut, and strong-scented when bruised. The odor is said to drive away bugs, and so the plant is sometime called bug-bane.

Like herb Robert the cultivated geraniums have leaves with characteristic odors, as the fish geranium, the lemon geranium, and the rose geranium. No doubt these scents are useful to the plant in frightening away its enemies, for animals and insects have a keener sense of smell than we have. Often they dislike odors that we like, and are attracted by odors that repel us.

The cultivated geraniums are properly called pelargoniums or stork-bills. They are cousins of the wild geranium and come from South Africa, where they cover the hillsides with brilliant bloom.

More than a hundred years ago the study of a wild geranium led the German botanist, Sprengel, to discover the relations of flowers to insects. His studies convinced him that “the wise Author of nature has not created a hair in vain.”


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