Meet Indian hemp, A.K.A. hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), the more common — and less showy — of the two species of dogbane on the mountain. Why “dogbane”? The Latin name gives a clue: Apocynum means “toxic to dogs”… though people aren’t exactly immune, either. Why “Indian hemp”? “Apocynum cannabinum was used as a source of fiber by Native Americans, to make hunting nets, fishing lines, clothing, and twine,” the Wikipedia article informs us.
We’re standing right above the barn, at the beginning of Butterfly Loop. I aim to give y’all a guided tour of some of the commoner plants blooming in the meadow right now, if you’re up for it. This could take a while.
After I surprised myself last week with the number of decent photos I was able to shoot from my front porch in one morning, I thought it might be fun to follow up with another photo project, this time getting off my ass and wandering around the old meadow we call First Field (to distinguish it from the Far Field at the southwestern end of our property). My dad maintains a mowed walking trail dubbed Butterfly Loop, so I thought I’d just follow that, photographing everything that caught my fancy along the trail (which in practical terms meant within about 50 feet on either side).
Ever since spring arrived early in March, the plants and insects have been some two weeks ahead of schedule here, so this is the optimal time to go looking for meadow wildflowers and their six-legged pollinators, as I soon discovered. Yes, we’re in a bit of a heat wave, but I knew if I got started too early in the morning, I wouldn’t see nearly as many insects, so I set out around 9:00 o’clock yesterday morning and went until my camera batteries ran out at 10:30. This morning I finished the loop, beginning where I left off at 10:30 and getting back to the house an hour later. The entire trail can’t be more than a half-mile long, so that probably tells you how slowly I moved. It’s going to take me a while to process all the photos, so I’m not sure how many blog posts this series will require.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is at the height of bloom right now. It’s a European immigrant and an extremely useful herb. I like the list of synonyms in Maude Grieve’s magisterial A Modern Herbal:
Milfoil. Old Man’s Pepper. Soldier’s Woundwort. Knight’s Milfoil. Herbe Militaris. Thousand Weed. Nose Bleed. Carpenter’s Weed. Bloodwort. Staunchweed. Sanguinary. Devil’s Nettle. Devil’s Plaything. Bad Man’s Plaything. Yarroway.
(Swedish) Field Hop.
I must be a bad man, because yarrow has been a most interesting plaything in my homebrewing experiments over the years. The Swedes obviously know the score there. I use mostly the flowering tops that you see here; I picked a bagful on Saturday, in fact.
Wild basil or field basil (Clinopodium vulgare) and bedstraw. You’re probably wondering whether, with a name like “wild basil,” C. vulgare can be used as a basil substitute. The smell of the crushed leaves doesn’t impress me, but whoever named must have been less particular. According to a citation-heavy page on the Plants For A Future website, it has “Edible leaves – used fresh or dried as a flavouring in cooked foods or fresh as a flavouring in salads. A sweet and aromatic herb tea is made from the fresh leaves.” I guess I’ll have to try it.
Oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), like yarrow, are pretty much everywhere. I was interested by the synonym list at Wikipedia: “common daisy, dog daisy, margarite, moon daisy,” first because I’ve been struck by how pretty a daisy-covered meadow can be on moonlit nights, and second: what the hell is it with dogs?
You don’t have to go very far along Butterfly Loop to get to the first, small patch of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) — one of three milkweed species along the trail, as I discovered. The monarch butterflies, which lay their eggs only on Asclepias, seek it out for nectaring as well.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about milkweed later, but for now, let’s close with a shot of some kind of native bee at the same patch. We’ve made it about a hundered yards from the barn. The temperature has climbed into the low 80s, but there’s a nice breeze.
Continue to Butterfly Loop 2.