Tag Archives: plant identification

The forest adorns itself and me.

black locust

In the middle of Saturday’s graduation party, Pippin and I wandered through a gate into the vegetable garden and soon found ourselves sitting in two chairs that seemed to have been set there just for us introverts, who were perhaps unconsciously following the advice given to introverts as to strategies for party-going.

After the weekend was over and we were both in our separate towns and homes again, in “recovery mode,” it was amusing how we found ourselves still together, after a fashion.

I was sifting through my pictures and notes on my phone and looking through my Weeds of the West, the book Pippin had mentioned when I asked her about a weed growing in her own vegetable garden. I was only a few pages away from finding it when on my computer a message popped up from her with a photograph of that very page.

Great Hound’s Tongue

It is Common Hound’s Tongue, Cynoglossum officinale, or “gypsyflower,” which she said she always pulls out before it makes its terrible stickery burrs — and this very minute, when I looked for photos of them online, I realized that these are the burrs which one September I noticed looked like Mrs. Tiggy Winkle! It’s also the same genus as beautiful wildflowers like the Great Hound’s Tongue I saw in Oregon eight years ago.

There is also another photo of hound’s tongue in my files that I think might be Pippin’s work, because it comes from her neck of the woods and I don’t remember taking it:

If that weed in Pippin’s garden looks strangely familiar to those of you who have been reading my last several blog posts…. That’s because hound’s tongue is in the Boraginaceae Family! Yep, it’s closely related to borage. Well, well.

The first full day I spent at Pippin’s, we took a picnic to the lake before working in the garden. There we also found some plants to look into further. There was a white flowering bush my daughter told me was a ceanothus called Mountain Whitethorn, though its flowers can be blue or pink.  We saw a recumbent berry that Pippin identified yesterday as a Dewberry, a name that echoes in my mind from the distant past.

And we all stopped to look at a lovely wild rose,
until Scout in his bare feet ran into some red ants, and from then on we didn’t linger.

wild ginger
merely mud

Back when we’d arrived for our picnic, before we had even got fully out of the parking lot above the lake path, we were hit by the scent of black locust trees in bloom — so delicious. And because a couple of my readers have told me that the flower petals are edible, we all tried them. They were a little dry and bland compared to pineapple guava petals, in case anyone is interested. 🙂

Right under the boughs of those trees Scout spied what he called “Botany Brooch,” and which I knew as the annoying sticky weed or catchweed, Galium aparine. But if you need a very temporary natural-looking piece of adornment, it lives up to its other nickname of “velcro plant,” and requires no difficult clasp to attach it, even after it  has wilted, which happens fast.

From this time forward, I will be less grumpy about this plant with a dozen nicknames, and who knows, you might even see me wearing a bit of it at my garden (work) parties.

When we returned to the garden that afternoon it was to plant Indian corn that Mr. and Mrs. Bread had given from their bounty. Pippin has never tried to raise corn before but she knows people who do, up there where the growing season is not long. It needed to be planted inside the garden fence so the deer won’t eat it; we decided to dig some “hills” here and there where there weren’t too many rocks to extract.

In the course of the afternoon the Professor brought us bags of compost and contributed to the dinner that was simultaneously in process. The children played all over the place, and helped to push the seeds into the earth, and discovered worms to feed to a toad that Pippin had found hiding behind a box. A salamander was unearthed and rinsed off and admired, and eventually let go in a wet area of the yard. I tried to take pictures of the striped bumblebees that are so pretty, compared to the fat black ones that I get down here.

blueberry flowers

High in an oak tree Ivy has hung a little basket of nest-making supplies for the birds. A flesh-colored button of a fungus was decorating the old stump, evidently the immature stage of what will become a dry and brown puffball type of growth; after I took my picture the children showed me how the little brown balls above would release their powder if broken with sticks.

On the other side of the stump, a splash of brightness — is this also a fungus?

Around the homestead of Pippin’s family, the forest is always sharing its life and beauty. I suppose there will never be an end of things for me to explore when I spend time there. But for now, my own garden realm is waiting for me so I will send in my report and say good-bye for now!


What I was given on my Home Day.

Today was my Slow/Stay at Home/R&R/Catch up Day. That sounds like a lot to expect of one day, especially when you stay up writing until the hands of the clock are telling you it has already become that day, and therefore you will start out short on sleep.

But what a blessing it turned out to be! The first gift was a phone call from my grandson and his wife, the parents of my great-granddaughter, and that was heartwarming. I loved talking about maternity care — what she got as well as cultural trends — with Izzie, who is bouncing back with the resilience of youth and those hormones a woman gets a good dose of in childbirth. The whole family and her mom were walking at a park when Roger decided to phone me and we had our satisfying visit.

And then a spell of plant identification. 🙂 Yes, and I didn’t even have to go out and discover the plant myself. My farmer friend from whom I buy lamb every year had posted a picture of flowers on Instagram, glad to see them in the pasture before the sheep ate them. She didn’t say their name so I assumed she didn’t know, but they were so pretty, I wanted to find out.

I asked Pippin’s help, but she didn’t know them, either, so I looked in the Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest guide, even though the authors don’t try to include my area of California in their book; I might still find a clue. And I did see one very similar, which was enough to take to the Internet and search with. I’m pasting the Wikipedia photo here, almost identical to the farmer’s, of downingia concolor or calicoflower, which is in the Campanulaceae Family. Aren’t they darling? I wonder if the sheep have eaten them by now…

Kasha, or roasted buckwheat groats, is one of my favorite things to eat on fast days. I like to cook a potful so that I have several servings on hand, but I had run out of that a couple of weeks ago. This package that was given to me by a friend is nearly used up now; it cooks up the way I like it and has the best flavor, so I think I will try to get this type from now on. I got to eat kasha for lunch, and stashed three containers in the fridge and freezer.

I had told myself that I would not read or write blogs today, since I did just do that last night, and because I wanted to catch up on one or two of the many other things that I’m behind on. Lately it’s become R&R just to wash the dishes, and when I was washing up my kasha pot I just kept going, and ended up spending a couple of hours on the kitchen. What took the longest was giving my stove top and range hood a thorough cleaning of the sort is hasn’t had for ages. After that experience, my hands told me they needed a manicure.

The sun came out — but not until 6:00 p.m. But after bending over my housework all that time, and feeling not rushed, the sunshine was all the encouragement I needed to get outside. I would just take the easiest stroll, no hurry.

Once I was in the neighborhood where I took pictures for my “Roses on My Path” series a long time ago that doesn’t feel that long ago (before my husband was even sick), I remembered that I wanted to go back to the house I called the Rose House back then, to find whether anything had changed.

I found it, and the display was more opulent than ever. This is the house where the roses do not appear to be cared for, though I continue to think they must be getting water from somewhere to make it through our rainless summers. All the roses on this post are from that house, and a link to the previous post might show up as one of the “related” posts below.

They still have the mailbox with stylistic roses painted on it, but now it is hidden deep under a broad spray of blooms hanging down. I think maybe that bush seems twice as tall as before because it has climbed into a tree behind it.

The profusion of flowers is probably a result of the rain of the last two years. The species are very special. I can’t tell you much about them, except that I find them exquisite, but many of my readers will know things just by looking. This time I noticed an identifying tag at the base of one bush that has the trunk of a tree. It was grown from a cutting taken in 2001; how long, I wonder, was the rose bush cared for before it was allowed to grow wild?

I feasted my eyes and my nose for quite a while, walking and gawking up and down and wishing I were in an official rose garden with a proper bench. I wanted to sit for a while to gaze at their loveliness, bursting out through the tangled canes and deadwood. Eventually there was nothing to do but go home. I felt thoroughly loved through those roses.

But when I got here I had to write after all, while it is yet today.
It’s one way I have of thanking God for all His wonderful gifts
that pour down even on — or is it especially on? — a slow day.

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and stones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

Roots and Rest

Pinecrest lk & sun
Pinecrest Lake

Sunday morning instead of driving to church I packed my car and drove up into the Sierras, not to one of the familiar destinations but to a lake on the Sonora Pass where I’d only been once before. I was meeting my three cousins for a very brief reunion. It was only two years ago that I’d met them as though for the first time, for their mother’s memorial.

Maybe because it was Sunday morning, as I headed out along the most familiar roads I tried to listen to a sort of sermon in the form of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, in which he speaks (and reads his own book in a very pleasant voice) as a would-be life coach to those anticipating or making big transitions in life. I liked one line I heard in the introduction: “We are the clumsy caretakers of our own souls.” But the paradigm he presented, of a life span in two halves, The First Half of life and The Second Half, was not at all useful to me. In other ways as well I didn’t feel like a member of his intended audience, so I wasn’t sorry when I realized my listening set-up was not giving me enough volume and I had to give up on books for this trip.

I had been looking forward to crossing the valley, this farmland that feeds the whole nation its fruits and vegetables, and where alfalfa and sunflowers and more also grow in plots of hundreds of acres. Even though I’ve written about this aspect of the California landscape before, I was as excited to make this drive as I was to see my relatives at the end of it. It’s because I love California, I realized with joy, and not just the agricultural parts. Thanks to my late husband, I was introduced to pretty much every region of our vast state, and it’s Home. I’m so glad I can keep on living here, where My People have lived for six generations now.

Pinecrest kids RHBJ 1927 ed
the previous generation in the 1920’s

My destination was Pinecrest Lake, where my father and his family, including my cousins’ mother, had often camped as children with their parents. They lived in Berkeley, and from there it was not too daunting an effort to get a carful of family up into the aromatic pines and cedars where the women and children might stay for the whole summer, while the menfolk would keep working down below and drive up most weekends. Eighty or a hundred years ago it probably took twice as long as my journey did, but it would have been easy to leave the city and cook dinner in camp on the same day.

I was only able to stay with my cousins one night and half a day, but during that time we took a boat out on the lake. I had a bum foot so it was just as well that they had hiked earlier while I was on the road. While we were on the water a bald eagle flew back and forth above us against the blue sky, which we took as friendly interest on his part, but he is just a speck on a cloud in the only photo I got of that encounter.

Pinecrest Mr G 07 crp
Mr. Glad at Pinecrest in 2007

We went out to dinner and told stories about our ancestors, and kept straying from that obvious subject to many others. Maybe it was being in the outdoors that led our conversation to the topic of rats and mice, and to comparing tales of house or tent visits, or downright infestations, of undesirable critters. When cockroach stories entered the stream, we tried harder to talk instead about something more appealing before the food arrived. And then we went on laughing and being happy together until a late bedtime.

After my father died several years ago, I made a point of visiting his youngest sister, my aunt Bettie, trying to hold on to whatever thin conduit might remain in the world, that might still connect me to him and that part of my history. Her family had always lived so far away that we rarely saw them and I didn’t know my cousins growing up.

I found her to be much more than a fulfillment of my familial longings; she was a warm and gracious and funny person who was quite admirable in herself, and I soaked up as much love and kindred feeling as I could in a too-brief visit. I planned to come back soon and spend more time, but those many miles prevented me, and then she died too. I was so thankful that I was then able to connect with her daughters, and now we will be catching up until we die.

Of course I cherish my brother and sisters as a link to my father, and for themselves even more, but it helps me to have cousins in my life now, too. My father didn’t pass on family history to me until it was too late to imbibe very much, but my aunt was telling her daughters stories their whole life long, and from a woman’s perspective. They can help me to know my father and even my mother better, as she and my aunt were close friends when they were young, before ripples of effects of war and family changes put such a geographical distance between them.

On Monday the oldest of these cousins, Renée, came home with me for a couple of nights. We didn’t stop often on the way down, and the sun was too bright for taking pictures, but even so I had to note these trellised olive trees that intrigued us as we drove across the Central Valley.


Renée wanted to help me weed my garden or whatever else would ease my grief and weariness. So we spent the next morning on the front yard, and the afternoon on the back yard. She was amazed at the difficulty of digging the taproot of a weed out of our clay soil, and amazed too that anything grows in this kind of dirt. We filled up the yard waste with pine needles, rockrose trimmings, wisteria vines and spent calla lilies. And she told me that one of my most hated weeds is Jack-in-the-Pulpit — but I don’t think so. Compare these pictures:

P1120869 weed 4-15

My weed is on the jackinthepulpit2c_thumb_410right, and Jack on the left.






Does anyone know what “mine” is? It looks like a lily of some sort… [Update: see in comments below for the full answer to my question. It’s an Italian Arum Lily.]

My last several days have been incredibly full and rich. In the wee hours of yesterday I woke to hear rain falling — in June in California! A special gift. It continued all morning and maybe contributed to the horrible traffic on the way to the airport, which made Renée almost miss her plane. When I came home and was eating my lunch I was surprised to nearly fall asleep in my tea; until then I hadn’t realized that so much talking instead of sleeping had taken such a toll that I could actually — and must — take a nap.

So I slept for most of the afternoon, and got up late today, and I think I could nap again! When I’m this tired I’m very susceptible to the floods of emotion that show me I am always on the verge of being a bit depressed. The liberty I have to pace myself is a great blessing.

Before my nap yesterday I’d read Albert’s blog post where he shared a “bit” from another blog, and even though the rain we had just experienced on our way to the airport was not cold and hard, the basic idea seems to fit how I quoted from this blog post:

Do what you can – because sometimes it is going to rain on your life and then you can only do what you can. And sometimes it is Cold hard rain. And sometimes it is on the day you had pegged to cut hay. And that is what we had yesterday. Wet, cold, hard rain.  But the work went on – just in a different direction.  We don’t need to save the world every day. Some days we just do what we can then take to the swing chairs when enough is done.

I do have a bench swing on the patio and I may use that this afternoon, after my nap. See ya later!