Posts Tagged Shepherd’s Purse

An April Shower’s Wildflowers

An April Shower’s Wildflowers . . .

A view of Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn captures the cold colors of early April. (photo taken 04 10 2011)

 

The transition from winter to spring really does resemble the way a rainbow emerges from a storm. First, there is the monochromatic gray sky, opening up with wind and water until it begins to thin out. A hint of pale blue emerges, followed by the electrum sun and the full spectrum of visible light manifested by the prism of that same rainfall, now receding.

April 2011 followed this manner of blooming, at least in New York City. A season opening fly fishing trip to Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn was accompanied by the somber colors of early spring. The lake itself was charcoal grey and surrounded by the tan stalks of last year’s cattails and the brown mesh of tree branches just beginning to bud. A week of cold rain followed. The spring season appeared to be as late as the Passover and Easter holidays.

When Easter Sunday did arrive, it turned into the first balmy warm day of the year. The humidity appeared in an instant, bumblebees filled the air, robins and purple finches trilled in the trees, which like the grounds all around town had gone a bright pastel green. The wildflowers, too, had arrived, including . . .

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

 

Ground Ivy (Glechoma  hederacea)

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

 

Heartsease (Viola tricolor)

Heartsease (Viola tricolor)

 

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

 

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

 

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

 

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

 

Wild Violet (Viola papilionacea)

Wild Violet (Viola papilionacea)

 

The first act of Manhattan’s spring blooming is complete. The stage is now set for May’s flowers.

–  rPs 04 29 2011

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Don’t Cut This Mustard

Don’t Cut This Mustard . . .

The dynamic forms of Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) appear to pirouette among the Beligian blocks along Bank Street. (Photo taken April 25, 2010)

The initial attraction to the world of wild plants often comes from the edible angle. Dandelion leaves for salad, onion grass for spice, and chickory root for a coffee substitute are just a few of the culinary oddities that can cultivate a lifetime of interest in the folksy home remedy, the locally-grown green, the weed as wildflower.

The Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) stands in the forefront of this group. An immigrant from Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, the plant offers a variety of uses. The leaves are both edible as a green and medicinal as a blood-clotting agent. The seeds, which have a flavor akin to pepper, can be used as a spice and are commonly used in Chinese won tons.

This member of the family Brassicaceae, the mustards, is also one of the most visually striking wild plants to be seen growing along the margins of the West Village. A basal rosette of toothed leaves similiar to the dandelion send up stalks fringed with seed pods topped by racemes of florets, each one consisting of four tiny white petals.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), like this example found in Hudson River Park, grows from a basal rosette of toothed leaves. (photo taken April 25, 2010)

A close-up view of the Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) reveals the wildflower's tiny white florets. (Photo taken May 16, 2010)

The seed pods below the flowering head are the most beautiful feature of the plant. Close up, they appear like tiny creased hearts served on a stem. These wind up the flower stalk in a symmetrical spiral manner that conjurs up a sense of movement. A loose group of shepherd’s purse plants, viewed with a little imagination, resemble whirling dancers.

Anyone who has access to an online search engine will learn the pods are the source of Capsella bursa-pastoris’ popular name. Apparently the shepherds of medieval times carried a pouch that paralleled the design of this seed-bearing structure. The Latin name alludes to the capsules bursting and spreading their contents in a pasture; an image as poetic and pretty as the plant itself.

Shepherd’s purse is a ruderal, one of the first plants to return to an area of soil disturbed, for example, by construction. For all of its useful qualities, and for all of its poetic lines and grace, it is also physically tough and once rooted will resist a lawn mower nine times out of ten. Edible, medicinal, and attractive, the shepherd’s purse is one of the West Village’s weeds most qualified to be viewed instead as a wildflower. So, don’t cut this mustard!

— rPs 06 01 2010

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