May 2, 2016 10:31:39 AM
"It is hard to explain the wildflowers that one gardener calls weeds, and another considers beautiful ground cover."
-- Shannon L. Adler, author
Driving west over the Tombigbee Bridge and exiting north onto Plymouth Access Road leads to a trail of wildflowers not to be believed. My definition of wildflowers is anything that no one attends. Merriam-Webster's definition is "a flower that grows in natural places without being planted by people." Know that wildflowers and native plants are not exactly the same thing.
Japanese honeysuckle is growing wildly over every fence and hedgerow, but it's not native. For purposes of enjoying roadside wildflowers, the plants may not be native and may even be a nuisance, but still, in their own way, for a moment of gazing ... wildflowers are beautiful in form, color or aroma. From just past the Shell service station, on both sides of the road wildflowers of white, blue, purple, yellow and pink dot the landscape. As you come to the "T" at Old West Point Road, on the left are honeysuckle thickets and an abundance of wild white climbing roses. There's no house in sight, so I have no idea how they got there except by wind, birds or the soles of little critters.
Continuing west at the 40 mph speed limit you can observe incredibly expansive fields of a small yellow flower mistaken for bitterweed, ragweed or golden rod which has not bloomed yet. One farmer suggested the invasive but lovely plant came in with soybean seeds.
I gathered up a handful of various wildflowers to take to the Plymouth Bluff Environmental Center and botanist Dr. Harry Sherman. Before leaving, Sue Anderson, a Prairie neighbor, arrived with blue flag irises. They are true wildflowers and sometimes called swamp irises. Yellow swamp irises line our lake and next year will be enhanced with the addition of the blue irises.
In the parking lot of the Center I met up with Dianne Patterson in the process of concluding her Life Enrichment class on bird identification. Oh, how I could use that class, but right then I was taken up with wildflowers. Noticing my bouquet, Dianne said, "Oh look, lyre-leaved sage. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees gather their nectar and spread pollen."
The sage is a salvia plant, and habitat was described as "rocky, open woods; sandy and gravelly soils along roadsides," exactly where I had found them.
From Dr. Sherman I learned sometimes the flower alone is not enough for identification, it requires the whole plant, the stem and especially the leaves. So off we went on a spontaneous roadside wildflower tour.
We found evening primrose, clovers in white, purple and crimson, butterweed in abundance by roadside ditches, asters and daisy fleabane, blooming privet hedge, and Queen Anne's lace, wild geranium, "buttercups," spiderwort and some type of legume with a tiny purple bloom and little tendrils winding around like sweet peas.
A 40 mph drive looking at the colorful landscape is nice but not nearly as wonderful as walking the gravelly roadside. You miss a lot if you don't take time to look around in the gravel.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.
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