Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Show Some Respect for Chickweeds

Its sepals larger than its petals, tiny Common Chickweed often goes unnoticed.

Common Chickweed.  The very name evokes hard-packed yards and unkempt alleyways.  And true enough, that's where this very common alien weed grows.  Most folks pass by without seeing it, a most unprepossessing flower, indeed.  Tiny (one-quarter inch), greenish-white, more leaves than blossoms, growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, sharing its space with gum wrappers and cigarette butts.  It just don't get no respect.

But it should.  It has a long list of medicinal uses, from treating sores to reducing fevers to aiding in weight reduction (fat chance!).  And it's also quite a tasty green, the tender little leaves tasting like gourmet lettuce.  It can also be steamed and enjoyed like spinach with garlic and olive oil.  Chickens and other birds just eat it up, which is probably how it got its common name.  Its Latin name ( Stellaria media) most likely refers to its starry little five-petaled, five-sepaled flower that looks like it has ten petals, because each one is deeply cleft.  This cleft-petal trait is shared by all the other chickweeds that grow around here: Mouse-ear (with furry little leaves), Lesser Stitchwort (with stems as weak and fine as thread), Field (with flowers twice as big as Common), and Star (the prettiest of the bunch, growing in masses like a firmament in the grass).

Field Chickweed, before the mowers cut it down

Those last two mentioned, Star Chickweed (S. pubera) and Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense), are not just the largest and prettiest, they are also the only native wildflowers of the bunch, and not nearly as commonly found as the others, either.  (Star Chickweed is actually on "endangered" lists in New Jersey and Illinois.)  Field Chickweed grows on the lawn in Congress Park -- or did, until the mowers came by.  There's a beautiful patch of Star Chickweed in the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton.  That's the only place in Saratoga County -- or anywhere else -- I've ever found it.  It's only in bloom for a day or so, so I have to be vigilant each year or I miss it.  I found just one blossom this year.

A solitary bloom of Star Chickweed

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