Fire Wire

It seemed almost to have sprung up overnight.  Long, lean, and wiry with a spiky mop-top.   What was it?

Different folks do different things in retirement.  Some become de facto babysitters for the grandkids.  Others might travel the world, or “retire” by starting a new business. Still others, perhaps with fewer resources, do little more than stay home and watch TV.  But for any of them, an option is volunteer gigs at their charity or non-profit of choice.

My wife and I have a few.  One that we share is the Oregon Food Bank.  We work on a crew that sorts through donations for quality and type; it’s a regular Wednesday morning gig.

Occasionally she finishes before me, and may take some time perusing seed packets available for free up at the reception desk.  It’s not just fruits and vegetables, they have flowers too.

Irrelevant aside: if the botanical definition of a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, is a green bean a fruit?

This tendency has led to several flowers being planted in various pots, with varying degrees of success.  So when one comes up,  we don’t always know what it is.  This was the story for Mr. Wiry Spikehead.

Mr. Spikehead

Most non-bushy flowers have a reasonable stem that rises from six inches to a foot, from which springs branches of leaves and one or more flowering buds. This guy was unreasonable.  It shot up about three feet, with a scrawny looking stem that didn’t seem like it could support a dandelion.  There were a few spindly leaves, attaching directly to the stem.  Then, eventually, at the top, a ball of something began to unravel.


Buried amongst the spikes, flower petals began to stretch out.  And then, they caught fire.

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Still, we wondered, what is it?

Perhaps some variant of Sunflower?  It was leggy like a Sunflower, and the leaves looked like the leaves of a Sunflower.  The inner part looked like it might develop into something bigger, as a Sunflower would.

But then it went a different direction.

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A “painted” version

A closer look showed its button center was not growing Sunflower size. It had its own identity.


And fully open, it was clear there’d be no seeds to snack on, for either us or the birds.


But it’s still a nice flower.  Persistent digging (and a pass through old seed packets) finally revealed the identity.  It’s a Firewheel or Indian Blanket (Gaillardia Pulchella). Apparently it’s common in the South, but it’s not native to Oregon.

And it is a member of the Sunflower family.

* * * * *

Another mystery flower showed up on its own.  Volunteering isn’t just for old farts, plants volunteer all the time.  Usually, the gardeners are squirrels burying treasure or birds spreading seeds, along with a little “fertilizer”.   This one showed up under a bush the local sparrows/juncos/miscellaneous other small birds like to hang out in, so I’m blaming the avians for the “green thumb”.  (Green talon?) 




A Google image search didn’t succeed, but a search with a botanic app on my phone did.  It appears this mystery plant is a Hypericum Androsaemum, AKA Shrubby St. John’s Wort or Sweet-Amber.  (Not to be confused with “regular” St. John’s Wort, a botanic cousin.)  It’s pretty, but…

It may not impress folks in New Zealand and Western Australia.  For them, it’s an invasive species, a hard to kill shrubby weed.  The berries are toxic.

Time will tell if we let this guy achieve full shrub status. Perhaps I’ll gift it to the “Knights Who Say “Ni!”.”



44 thoughts on “Fire Wire

  1. A lovely set of photos both in colour and b/w together with some interesting discussion on the definition of a fruit. I would include the beans among the vegetables, no matter what the botanists are telling us. Have a great week, Dave!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was reading a discussion that claimed there is one definition of fruits and vegetables for botanists and a different one for chefs. The chefs would agree with you. (But I’m not sure what they’d say about tomatoes.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post, Dave ~ it is similar to an extended opening of a Christmas present…not quite sure what it is at any point during the opening but the mind keeps on guessing what it could be. What is so cool through your photos, is how drastically it can change shape & thus the emotion when viewing it. I do not think I’ve every seen a Firewheel or Indian Blanket, very cool. Also, I like the idea of picking up seeds of unknown and then waiting to see what happens 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree about the brooch. I had vaguely remembered something about the definition of fruit so I looked it up and got to thinking, aren’t green beans that way? Sure enough, from a botanical perspective. Not so much, from the culinary side. Of course, I also remember hearing a poem that started, “beans, beans, the musical fruit…”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We have volunteer bay laurel in the back, courtesy of a squirrel no doubt, that has gotten very large. I sometimes wonder if it was complicit in the death of a madrone that used to stand next to it. The bay leaves are quite odorous, and I noticed the leaves on the madrone that were closer to the bay seemed to be dying off more quickly. And the bay laurel is known as the “headache tree”…


  3. I use an app called Plant Net to identify plants I’m unfamiliar with. You just take a picture of the plant/flower/leaf/berry, hit submit, and it tells you what it is. This came in handy when we bought our house and inherited a garden full of stuff we didn’t know. Just for fun, I tried it on Mr. Wiry Spikehead. Sure enough, the top result is Indian blanket. Other matches include blanketflower and common sunflower. Good to know the app is accurate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Even though I got close enough to take macro shots I’d didn’t think to take a sniff. It didn’t seem like it had a strong fragrance, but I suppose if you had a few of them…


    1. Thanks, Otto. I thought it might be interesting to capture the different stages as we discovered what it would be. I also attempted a time lapse to show how it seemed to follow the sun, but battery limitations and focus issues made that only moderately successful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m impressed that you have an app that you used to ID that plant. I’m familiar with it (though I couldn’t remember the name) as a garden plant. Your photos of it are great, you really show it off nicely. The Gaillardia is nice too, but I love the way you tried both color and black and white for the Hypericum, and they both look so good. Here’s to finding more strangers.

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      1. No, there are SO many plants I don’t know. I guess it’s one of those areas where the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. I have inaturalist on the phone and never think to use it.
        So far I’ve been making do with taking photos that (hopefully) document what’s important (I often miss something though), then tagging the photo “ID” in lightroom so I remember to check it, and using a few field guides plus online sources. I do like books and enjoy thumbing through the field guides but it can be very frustrating. I’m so thankful for lists of plants for nearby parks, like Deception Pass that exist online. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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