“I Found This Plant ...”
I almost knew what he would say before he spoke. The receptionist had told me she had a caller who was curious about a plant growing in the fields along the highway.
It was early April, too early for most flowering plants, but the time when a little purple-flowered mint (Lamium amplexicaule) paints Missouri’s fallow fields purple. It was getting to be a spring ritual that this plant would trigger several phone calls from the public.
As a Conservation Department botanist, I would get several more inquiries before the purple flowers faded and gave way to other, less showy, vegetation.
Over the years, I have seen other plants catch the public’s eye during a particular season, usually corresponding to the plants’ flowering or fruiting periods. Sometimes the flowers or fruits present a dramatic show of color due to their sheer numbers; at other times, the individual flowers or fruits just seem so odd.
The descriptions and photos that follow highlight some of the plants that are most likely to elicit questions. Perhaps you have wondered about the identity of some of these plants as well, but haven’t had the opportunity to ask. If you haven’t yet spotted them on the Missouri landscape, I hope you will enjoy seeing them here.
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
This small (up to 10 inches tall) annual plant can turn acres of fallow fields pinkish-purple in very early spring, sometimes flowering as early as February.
Henbit grows very shallow roots and does not hinder crops that will later occupy the same ground. The common name refers to the seeds being eaten by chickens.
A closely related species, dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), blooms at the same time and has similar flowers. Its flowers are less conspicuous, though, being somewhat obscured by the plant’s leaves. Both species are native to Europe, Asia and Africa.
Passion flower, maypops (Passiflora incarnata)
A perennial vine of roadsides and fencerows in the southern half of Missouri, passion vine attracts attention because of its unique flower structure and its egg-shaped fruits filled with citrus-like pulp. “Passion flower” relates to the correlation of the flower parts to aspects of the crucifixion story. “Maypops” refers to the popping sound made by the fruits when stepped on.
Flowers appear as early as June, and fruits can be found through October. The edible fruits are green, then yellowish, and they have pale-colored pulp with a somewhat sweet and acidic flavor.
Raccoon grape (Ampelopsis cordata)
This high-climbing, woody vine resembles grapes, but