Monday, August 14

Waving the White Flag

In what I expect to be the last of this year's wildflower series, let's go back and pick some of the little white flowers that got passed over for their more colourful friends. First up is the dwarf dogwood, pictured on the right. This little flower is almost circumpolar in the northern hemisphere (only Europe misses out), with it's range extending as far south as Colorado and New Mexico. If the name dwarf dogwood, is unfamiliar to you, it could be that you know it as the bunchberry instead. That name comes from the clusters of bright red berries that form in the center of the set of leaves after the flowers are gone.

This plant is just a little mysterious. For one thing, the white part we think of as it's flowers aren't flowers at all, but bracts* surrounding the flowers, which are the tiny green things you see in the center of the white bracts in the photo. In addition, the sources for wildflower facts give conflicting information about the dwarf dogwood. Are they native to North America? The answer is yes, they are native around the globe; or no, they were introduced to North America. Are they edible? Well, yes, you can eat the leaves as salad greens or a cooked vegie, and yes, the berries are edible, but they taste like cotton; or no, the Pilgrims made a pudding out of dogwood berries, and the berry pudding gave them all digestive problems. I guess that means we can conclude at least one thing for sure: either this plant is native to North America, or the Pilgrims brought it over on the Mayflower.

To the right is the little mountain avens. This flower is closely related to the yellow dryas featured earlier, and it develops a similar spritely seed plume that ranges in color from burgundy to gold.

This wildflower, too, is circumpolar, and follows the Cascade Range south to the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. It's the provincial flower of the Northwest Territories, and in some areas of Nunavut it has an important job helping hunters determine when to hunt caribou. When the little seed plumes begin to untwist, the time is right.

Next up is a wildflower you'll probably recognize right off the bat. Yep, the blossoms below are from the wild strawberry. We have a big patch of wild strawberries in the ditch in front of our house, and right now they're producing berries.

This is a good year for them, too. They have lots of berries, and they're large ones--large for the wild variety, that is. I've eaten a few of them, but mostly they've been eaten first by birds, or neighborhood kids, or our dog, who loves to sniff through the patch until she finds a sweet one.

And she isn't the only animal who loves to eat them. The wild strawberry provides food for a long list of wildlife. Besides many varieties of birds, there are skunks, squirrels and chipmunks, voles and mice, rabbits, deer, and even turtles, who all love to eat the leaves or berries of the strawberry plant.

The only distasteful thing about wild strawberry plants is the friends they keep. They like to hang out with my own arch enemy of the plant world--poison ivy. Not here in the Yukon, mind you, but that's only because we don't have poison ivy. In fact, it is its close association with the criminal plant element that earned the wild strawberry the wild part of its name. So if you live where there is poison ivy, and you like picking wild strawberries, you'll want to make sure you know what poison ivy looks like so you can avoid the misery that touching any part of that nasty plant can bring.

*Don't know what bracts are? They're just leaves that surround and protect the flowers of a plant.

Click on photos for larger view. You'll find all of the previous wildflower posts listed here.

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