Hemp Nettle

Okay, are they cute or what?

For years I’ve pulled hemp nettle “aliens” out of my garden — given a chance they run rampant. It grows quickly and will overtake everything around it. If there’s soil, hemp nettle will set up shop. If you’re a farmer it’s particularly bad as it competes with crops for moisture and soil nutrients.

Despite the term “nettle” I’ve never had a problem pulling them out sans gloves, although some sources say the tiny stem hairs can pierce the skin.

Classed as a noxious weed, it hitchhiked to Canada from Europe and Asia and was enjoying life in its new country by the 1880s.

Hemp nettle belongs to the mint family — square stems, tiny flowers, paired leaves. And volatile oils. No surprise that its relatives include basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and lavender.

I’d give hemp nettle a pass, though.

Hemp nettle   Galeopsis tetrahit

Pink. Again.

This has been a wonderful season for pink wintergreen. More than I recall from past years.

Their stems grace the forest floor with dainty blooms of deep pink, half hidden among other plants.

I thought them nearly over. The ones near home are slowly making seed and looking rather woebegone. Yesterday, trekking further into the trees, proved me wrong.

Wandering through rain-damp woods I counted two dozen or more. Vivid. Shining. Brand-spanking new.

A make-my-day moment.

Common pink wintergreen   Pyrola asarifolia

Watch Where You Go

A western wood lily and I shared a river bank yesterday. Me, dangling boots over the edge. She, tipped up to the sun.

After a moment I realized we weren’t alone. A northern pearl crescent had joined us. But it misjudged the descent. Instead of landing on the lily, it landed in the lily. Oops.

I watched it circle the bottom, wings flapping but unable to open in tight quarters.

Finally it poked its head between the base of two petals. With more energetic huffing and puffing (or so I imagined), the rest of the body popped out like a wine cork and it fluttered off.

High drama in the afternoon.

Northern pearl crescent butterfly   Phyciodes morpheus
Western wood lily   Lilium philadelphicum

Not in My Back Yard

Yellow rattle is like the neighbour who keeps borrowing stuff but never returns it.

Like its relative Indian paintbrush, yellow rattle is semiparasitic. It can make its own food but prefers to use someone else’s. It steals water too. All done through interlocking roots.

One of its favourite “victims” is grass, which is where I found these growing. If you find yellow rattle thriving amidst a patch of sorry-looking grass, you know who’s winning that round.

It’s an odd-looking plant, easily recognized. The yellow flowers remind me of baby chicks poking out of an egg. The hollow “egg shell” holds the loose seeds that rattle around inside — hence its other name, rattlebox.

Yellow rattle lives only one season. When wind rocks its withered stems, loose seeds scatter on the ground and the cycle begins again.

Watch your back, grass.

Yellow rattle/Rattlebox   Rhinanthus borealis

In the RAW

Nope. It’s not about me in the nude. It’s all about the camera.

Press the shutter and the image is digitally captured in one of two formats: jpeg (jpg) or RAW.

Jpeg is usually the default mode for most of us and most photos. And it does a good job. RAW is the choice of serious amateurs and professionals. It does a great job.

The downside? RAW is ravenous. It’s a memory pig. Shoot the same scene in both formats and compare. Depending on your settings, your jpeg file may weigh in at 1 or 2 MBs. RAW may gobble up 12 or 15.

So why would I do this? Two reasons.

First — macro envy. I’m fascinated by the detail DSLR cameras capture. But I don’t want to lug all that heavy equipment again.

Second — I currently edit in iPhoto. A better program will let me do much more, if I have the RAW detail to work with.

Here’s a recent example. I shot the first image in RAW and downloaded it to my computer. I cropped it to focus on the fly. Finally I exported it as a jpeg to the blog.

Sound fussy? Only the first time or so. The process is quick and easy.

Who knew I’d ever capture a fly eating pollen? (This is me, fully clothed, with a big grin on my face.)

Wild White Geranium   Geranium richardsonii

Lady of the Woods

The woods held several surprises yesterday. It saved the best for last.

Trudging home in gumboots and rain gear I ambled along a deer trail. Battery almost gone on the camera. Eyes on the trail for trip-me-ups. Then a flash of bright orange.

In speckled sunlight, between two trees, a single western wood lily.

Sources say this is the most widespread native lily in North America, but they are few and far between in our woods. Each sighting is special.

I squeezed enough juice out of the battery to capture several images. Happy day!

The western wood lily is endangered or threatened in many areas, often through over-picking — it dies since the bulb often comes up with the flower.

Western wood lily   Lilium philadelphicum


What’s in a Name?

Stick with me on this.

Scientific names are important. They bring order and precision to Earth’s millions of life forms. Take the flowers in this post. A botantist would look and think:

Family:   Pyrolaceae
Genus:    Pyrola
Species:  asarifolia 

Family, as the name suggests, includes a group of plants that are closely related, that share many things in common. Aunts, cousins, grandparents.

Genus is like your last name. It identifies the smaller group that you belong to. Parents and siblings.

And Species? That’s like your first name. It points (most of the time) to a specific individual.

But life isn’t tidy. (Still with me?) Even science changes its mind. Now apparently all the Pyrolas have been moved from Pyrolaceae (the wintergreen family) to Ericaceae (the heath family), in with the rhododendrons and blueberries.

Then toss the “common” names into the mix, the ones we use instead of all that botanical gobbledegook. You might recognize this little plant with its elephant-trunk flowers as common pink wintergreen.

It’s a bit much at times. Which is sad, because there is much enjoyment in getting to know your neighbours — at whatever level you are comfortable with.

On my rambles, I spotted several patches of round, leathery leaves. Further on a flash of pink against a rotting stump — a slender stalk of unfolding blossoms.

No names run through my thoughts at that moment. Nothing is lost in translation.

The wonder is wordless.

Common pink wintergreen   Pyrola asarifolia

Purple Rain

How many raindrops to bend a flower?
Droop its head, hunch its back?

Weight of water shifts their gaze but only briefly.
They bounce back.

We could learn from them: 
When the odds aren’t in your favour, embrace the moment — enjoy the rain.


A Brush with Colour

Early yesterday, with dark clouds above and grass drizzle-wet, I set off for the cutline.

It did not disappoint. There, in an opening between the trees, I found the Indian paintbrush. Discovered by accident last summer, this wild garden glows with colour.

Such places fill me with joy. Living things. Unhindered by lawn mowers or pesticides. Corners where we haven’t intruded. Where we view these as neighbours, not weeds.

The air is damp. Insects still doze. I find wee harlequin bugs on several flowers. Not a sound from beyond the woods.

Don’t get much better than this.

Indian paintbrush   Castilleja spp.
Wee harlequin bug   Cosmopepla bimaculata