Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Identity Crisis

Do you love a good mystery? I certainly love to curl up with a good book or watch one on television. I also like visual puzzles; on my recent walks I have come across several plants that are new to me, so with the help of the Internet I am going to try to identify them. In fact the only kind of mystery I don't enjoy is mystery food, I really am rather partial to knowing what I am eating before I dig in!

First though, the mystery photograph from last time:

This is the new leaves on my mint plant seen sparkling in the late afternoon sun. I have not looked this closely at my mint before and was fascinated by the little hairs on the leaves, another picture below.

"I love to lose myself in a mystery, to persue my reason to an O altitudo!" 
 Sir Thomas Browne
 Below is a series of fern frond emerging from the forest floor. The new growth of some ferns (fiddle heads) is edible, but the varieties that grow here on the Pacific Coast are not as far as I know.

"Fiddle-de-dee, Fiddle-de-dee, the fly shall marry the humble bee."
Nursery Rhyme

This plant was growing along the side of the road near the beach, I stopped and took pictures and asked some passersby if they knew what it was. One fellow offered to use a new iPhone app to identify it for me; he took a picture and searched but the app crashed and I was left to identify on my own. The foliage grows about a foot high and the flower heads are one to two feet above that.

Petasites frigidus, Coltsfoot or Western Coltsfoot is a perennial that blooms in early spring; I found information here:
"Stout erect stem with tight cluster of whitish to pink rayless flowers that open before leaves emerge. Flower stalks continue to lengthen as large leaves unfold. Leaves palmately divided, lobes coarsely toothed. Flowers in often purplish bell-shaped cup; male, female flowers in separate heads. Grows in bogs, stream edges, roadsides, other wet soils, at low elevations. Var. palmatus (pictured) has large leaves to 16 in. across with lobes deeply cut to base; blooms March, April. Var. nivalis has leaves less than 8 in. across, not deeply divided, with short or no teeth. Blooms July and August at high elevations, often immediately after snowmelt."
Coltsfoot can be eaten although not in large quantities due to alkaloid content: young stems and flowers can be roasted, boiled or stir fried, leaves can be cooked like spinach or leaves can be rolled up, dried and burned to ash then used as a salt substitute.

This mystery solved, Coltsfoot has strikingly pretty flower heads at this time of year.

Coltsfoot Flower head

Probably time for a picture with an ahhhhhhhhh factor. So here is a Bunny picture, only question is this Peter or Jack Rabbit?

My guess would be Jack. :)

Another mystery plant, I have seen these at the beach in the park and along the side of the road recently, a very curious looking plant:


This is horsetail or Equisetum; also called snake grass or puzzle grass. According to Wikipedia Horsetail "is the only living genus in the Equisetaceae, a family of vascular plants that reproduce by spores rather than seeds. Equisetum is a "living fossil", as it is the only living genus of the entire class Equisetopsida, which for over one hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests.

They are perennial plants, either herbaceous and dying back in winter as most temperate species, or evergreen as most tropical species and the temperate species rough horsetail (E. hyemale), branched horsetail (E. ramosissimum), dwarf horsetail (E. scirpoides) and variegated horsetail (E. variegatum). They mostly grow 0.2-1.5 m tall, though the "giant horsetails" are recorded to grow as high as 2.5 m (northern giant horsetail, E. telmateia), 5 m (southern giant horsetail, E. giganteum) or 8 m (Mexican giant horsetail, E. myriochaetum), and allegedly even more."


The plant starts out as a odd cone shaped green shot, then develops rings of green spikes close to the stem which then open up into a grass like plant.

Horsetail plant

That solved I turn my attention to a plant that I spotted while walking along the beach, it was the small orchid like flower that attracted my attention: 

This is either Red or Purple Deadnettle. Now before you get worried about the nettle part of the name, it is called deadnettle because it does not sting. It is superficially similar to a nettle in appearance but is not related and does not sting.  It is actually a member of the mint family.

It is a common plant in wild areas and considered a weed in cultivated areas.

"It grows to 5–20 cm (rarely 30 cm) in height. The leaves have fine hairs, are green at the bottom and shade to purplish at the top; they are 2–4 cm long and broad, with a 1–2 cm petiole (leaf stalk), and wavy to serrated margins." (Wikipedia)

The leaves can be eaten in salads or cooked, but do not have much flavour.

"The zygomorphic flowers are bright red-purple, with a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between.They may be produced throughout the year, including mild weather in winter. This allows bees to gather its nectar for food when few other nectar sources are available. It is also a prominent source of pollen for bees in March/April (in UK), when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest."

"You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
A small selection of birds to end the post: a great Blue Heron, a Junco and a Robin all stopped to check out the photographer.



More work on my Heron paintings (now 2 in progress) this week but neither finished yet. I did  finish this watercolour of a magnolia though:


Thank you for stopping by and thanks for your comments which are always much appreciated. I am sorry that I have not been visiting your blogs regularly recently, it's been a busy week what can I say?

Happy Whimsy Wednesday, until next time .......


  1. I always love a good mystery! That Horsetail is an unusual looking plant, and the Purple Deadnettle, I have plenty of this growing in my weed garden, also known as my frontyard!

    Love the little Junco and the Magnolia watercolour is beautiful!

  2. Sorry, but it's quite important to myself that my cultural heritage is not misquoted, in reality Sir Thomas Browne stated -

    'I love to love myself in a mystery and persue my reason to an O altitudo' - Religio Medici 1:9.

    Somehow or another your source has interpolated the word 'good' to his statement !

  3. Very useful information on this post! It is funny how one can go for walks through forest floors and see all sorts of wildlife and shrubbery on a daily basis yet their proper names remain a mystery. How generous of the person to try and search on his iPhone … and too bad the app crashed. There is an art to categorizing things while maintaining its essence and magic.

  4. I apologize about the T. Browne quote, you are quite right HYDRIOTAPHIA the "good" does not belong it should be "I love to lose myself in a mystery and persue my reason to an O altitudo".

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  6. Your nature shots are always beautiful. Wildflowers are often different west of the Rockies from the ones on my side of the continent so I love seeing what you have there.

  7. i love the junco peeking at you. very cool growth you discovered - named or not. :)

  8. All of these photographs are a delight and as always I enjoy your paintings.

  9. WoW, lot's of very cool greenery ;))

    LOVE that heron shot, it's so much better then the one i got today!!

    your magnolia is gorgeous!!

  10. Thanks for shedding a light on the various plants you saw on your walk. Now I know the names of them. I love the Blue Heron shot.

  11. Beautiful shots. Our coltsfoot -a sign of spring - is yellow over here.

  12. Great pictures as usual. I love the close up of things it really is neat to move in close on some of the things we see each day. As always very interesting post. Glad to see you are up and running and back to normal again.

  13. I knew it!!! Mint is a great plant and does really well around Tucson...especially for mojitos. You've chosen some great plants that have a prehistoric quality to them.....horsetail and ferns are really really unique. The shot of the Great Blue Heron is excellent!!! Nice work:) Hope you have a great night! Chris

  14. Great photos of the birds but the detailed photos of the plants are very special. Beautiful!

  15. haha! Love the rabbit shots! My mom used to grow mint when I was a kid. I don't know if it's the same, but she'd put it in tea. Your bird shots are the heron!

  16. Hi Gillian,

    This post was really timely for me, since I've been noticing and wondering about so many plants that I would have, in my working life, probably not even noticed. Now, to improve my memory so that I can retain some of your fascinating information. "Living fossil" - wow, how amazing is that! You probably know about this link, but I will give it to you. The people on this UBC forum have assured me that they are there to help. I've made three identification requests (including the deadnettle) and had answers back in less than 12 hours. I really like your painting of the magnolia. Thanks for another wonderful post.

  17. All of your mysteries are lovely. I love your horsetail--I haven't seen one in years, and the ferns waiting to unfurl. That bunny, whether Peter or Jack, was definately and ahhhhhhhh!

  18. Yes, the plants, and the rabbit and not to miss it out, the birds. Oh, I forgot, your own flower, brilliant. Great series.

  19. what you called horsetail we call foxtail. In swedish "rävsvans". When I was a kid we made skirts from them. :)

  20. Very nice shots. Interesting that we have Red Dead-nettle and horsetail here, also, although our Coltsfoot has yellow flowers, unlike yours!

  21. Beautiful photographs, nature is giving a lot of wonderful subjects for photographing. I am greeting

  22. Very interesting plant information and very nice shots. Love the birds, and as always your watercolour is amazing. Such talent!

  23. So many wonderful photos. I also love a good mystery.. Your magnolia painting is Beautiful.. I just love it..


  24. Great pictures and I just love the horsetail! Your watercolor is really beautiful.

  25. Beautiful photos as always Gillian - it's a pleasure to visit your blog.

  26. A most informative post filled with beautiful detailed photographs! I am especially intrigued by the Horsetail Plant ... very cool! Love the wildlife images, too! Wonderful post, as always!

  27. Excellent online sleuthing, Gillian. I sometimes come up empty-handed whtn I try to identify a plant or bird. Now I know where to turn. ;)

    Lovely photos and artwork as always. I snapped a few of a great blue yesterday. I'd seen him in flight a couple of times but this was the first time he landed this year. It's good to have the old boy (which could well be a girl for all I know) back.

  28. A wonderful post..
    I am so sorry I can't help you to ID anything. I can appreciate you lovely images though. xxx

  29. The only plant I could recognize was the henbit-nettle. Your series of photographs is stunning. The watercolor is so very beautiful. You are most talented!

  30. Hello Gillian, lovely images from your walk. The coltsfoot is pretty. I am not familar with any of them, so thanks for sharing. I love the cute bunny too. Beautiful photos.

  31. Have a wonderful day, dear!