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.
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.
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.
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!”.”