Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wild Rose of Kansas

Rose Hip 

Yet, while I weep to say I would sow 
More rose hips about my garden soil 
Like words cast too freely 
Unpruned and untended 
They spread about and hurt 
The tender hand and heart they touch

A rainy day in late November, I came across the rose hips of a wild rose of Kansas, shorn of its leaves, nevertheless the bright berries stood out against a grey cloudy day.

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Velvetleaf in Kansas

By the second week of November, a high pressure in the Pacific Ocean pushes the Polar Vortex from its home in the Arctic down into to the Midwest and Kansas.

Kansas Velvetleaf, seed pod
It is bitter cold and the last few butterflies and insects of summer and fall have been silenced. If there is a benefit to this cold, it is that the freezing temperatures push back against the invasive species that are non-native to Kansas.

Velvetleaf, Sedgwick County, Kansas, winter

One such invasive species is the Velvetleaf, a Chinese native plant introduced to the Americas in the nineteenth century that unfortunately has adapted to the cold temperatures of Kansas. The plant is opportunistic, finding its way to farm fields and disturbed sites by birds. Eventually, because of its height and because of the shade from its leaves, it will out compete more desirable plants.

Velvetleaf, winter, Kansas

Handicrafters will use the seed pods for potpourri. The Chinese use the Velvetleaf plant as a homeopathy to treat ailments such as stomachaches, fever, and dysentery. The stalk produces a strong fiber, China jute, used in the making of rugs. But American farmers find the Velvetleaf in the fields significantly reduce the yield of corn and other crops.

Velvetleaf, seed pod

Kansas currently restricts Velvetleaf (9 per pound) that may be hitchhiking in other seed packages.

Velvetleaf, Kansas, winter

Velvetleaf, seed pods

Velvetleaf, seed pods

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why is it called Pokeweed?

The “poke” in Pokeweed comes from the Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian Indians of Virginia whose word for blood was “pak”. 

Pokeweed is common throughout Kansas and the Midwest, growing in fields, along highway fences, and near woodland edges. 

The plant can reach 6 to 8 feet in height. Leaves are smooth and oblong, usually 6 to 8 inches in length. In winter the stalks wither, but the perennial root remains viable below the ground.

Clusters of succulent, pea-size berries, occur at the tops of the plants. Birds love them, but the berries are poisonous to humans. The shade and berries of the Pokeweed are attractive to game birds such as the Bobwhite and Quail.

As the plant matures, the berries turn a shiny bright purple, which can be used as a dye. The Pawnee Indians used the color to paint war horses. During the Civil War, soldiers of both sides used the berries as ink to write letters home.