contributed by Sara Callaway
Two months ago, I moved. High school teenagers have accomplished this with more grace. I didn’t even change towns. Just houses. But man, did I go kicking and screaming. Ok, moping and weeping was more like it in reality. Either way, it wasn’t pretty. I moved because I had to, and let me tell you, the house I moved to is less than exciting in my opinion. For one thing, the yard is tiny and boxed in on all sides by neighbors. For a wide-open-spaces country girl like me, the contrast has been appalling. And it’s taking me months to begin to get over it. But one thing that’s helping is the weeds. Seriously.
A couple of weeks ago, I looked out the kitchen window into the back yard and though, “Gosh, those violets sure look good!” The back yard is a thick shag carpet of violets, all lush and gorgeous now. I just couldn’t help myself. I opened the back door and wandered out. “Who’s back here?” I thought. Other than violets, who are my neighbors in this new place? I found several old friends – violets, chickweed, pokeweed, woolly elephant’s foot. Their presence here comforts me. Yes, these are plants I know, and who know me as well.
I slowly meandered, teacup in hand, ankle deep in violets. “Yes, yes, hello friends. Glad you’re here!” But wait! What’s this? Now here’s a plant I don’t know. And I thought to myself, “Well, with a yard this small, it would be a shame not to know all these plants. There’re probably not more than a dozen different ones here, most of which I already know. Maybe I can make it my goal to learn them all. Just a handful of mysteries to solve. That should be quite do-able.”
Thankfully, I work with plant geeks. And we’ve been identifying weeds at work. So Monday morning, one of my fellow botany friends brings in a new weed to identify and wouldn’t you know it? It’s the same mystery weed I just found in my yard! What are the odds?! Either way, it was awesome because now I had both incentive and help. Yet try as we might, we couldn’t figure it out. We consulted Weeds of the South, Peterson’s Wildflowers Guide, Lone Pine Guide to Wildflowers, Google, online sources – no luck. After three days of searching, the mystery was remaining a mystery. So I posted a picture of it on Facebook. I have several botany friends, and I hoped for a bit of luck from one of them. Sure enough, one guy knew it! But how? I asked him, and you know what he said? “When I was learning plants, I decided I would start by learning all the plants in the yard. This is one of them.”
Who is this mystery plant? 3-Seeded Mercury. The tiny seedpods are distinctly 3-lobed and the name “Mercury” comes from the bracts – frilly things that surround the seed pods all up and down the stem of this plant. Someone thought they looked like the wings on the feet of the messenger god Mercury (Roman mythology). Thus, 3-Seeded Mercury. It likes moisture, a bit of shade, disturbed areas, and somewhat fertile ground. I’ve never had a yard in part shade before – maybe that’s why I’ve never seen this native until now. I’m glad it remained a mystery for a while – that made discovering it so much more exciting! Hello, Acalypha rhomboidea, it’s nice to get to meet you! Now we get to be a bit more familiar. Now I have a new plant friend.
So. What’s in your back yard?