The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
I haven’t written for several weeks due to….well….lassitude. That does not mean I have not been enjoying life and continuing to regularly uncover more of nature’s mysteries and beauty. It also does not mean I have left my camera behind while making these discoveries.
Because we think of some plants as dangerous – allergic reactions, painful pricks – or commonplace does not mean they have no beauty. They just have to be approached cautiously or examined more closely. For as Confucius is credited with saying, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Below are some of the ‘bad’ beauties in nature I’ve encountered.
The Carolina Horsenettle belongs to the nightshade family and is not only prickly but poisonous. The prickly comes from contact with the spines on the bottom of the leaves as well as along the stem. The poisonous is only applicable if you ingest any part of the plant. The plant contains solanine. Interestingly, other members of this family include tomatoes and potatoes whose plants are also toxic.
Until this year I didn’t realize that Kudzu had such pleasant blossoms. The plant is not toxic and is even used as forage for some livestock – especially goats. The danger with Kudzu is its rapid growth that can even kill trees by blocking them from sunlight. In most of the United States it is considered a noxious weed. Even so, if we have to live with such an invasive species it’s nice that it has something to offer visually.
This is another prickly plant but unlike the Carolina Horsenettle above it is edible. The information I’ve found suggests boiling it before eating but I’m not sure I want to get that close to its spiny leaves. The seeds are a favorite of gold finches and it seems more appropriate to let them have first dibs on consumption. But the color and form of this tall thistle is lovely to view. Even as it matures the downy-covered seeds have a wispy loveliness.
“Leaves of three, let it be.” That’s part of an outdoor enthusiast’s mantra when it comes to identifying toxic plants – particularly those that cause contact dermatitis. The less familiar – at least for me – rest of the saying states “From berries of white—take flight! Beans of red will leave you dead!”.
I’ve always been cautious of the Poison Ivy plant since I have a strong reaction to its toxins. Until this year I hadn’t realized the plant fruits. I presumed that as a vine it reproduced via rooting where it touched the ground. Actually, it can propagate in three ways – “by seed, by leafy shoots sent up from the roots, and by stems that can take root where they touch the soil”.
Unlike poison ivy berries blackberry fruit is edible but comes with its own deterrent in the form of thorns. There are numerous types of typical blackberries this is one of the less common which I’ve come across in my wanderings. The sawtooth blackberry gets its name from the irregular pattern of its leaves. Those leaves also provide protection to the fruit through their prickly petioles and midribs. These photos are from brambles at the edge of our yard near the house we put up for one of the creatures with a fondness for blackberries – Eastern Bluebirds.
We often limit our definition of beauty to the safe and conventional but I am often reminded of a statement attributed to Confucius, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it”.