Monday, July 15, 2013

Studies in white (and pretty poison)

I was struck by the similarities between Queen Anne's lace and water hemlock, one benign and the other not --- pretty poison --- while walking at the marsh Sunday evening.

Much of what's blooming at Pin Oak now is white --- in a multitude of expressions --- precursor to the great yellow sunflower and goldenrod flame out now only weeks away.

Water hemlock (Cicuta maculata, top and above) is native to Iowa, fond of wet, open areas, and grows tall. It's tiny flowers open into delicate heads that at first glance look a lot like Queen Anne's lace, but are not as dense. Hemlock leaves, saw-tooth lances, are the dead giveaway. 

All parts of water hemlock are poisonous, according to my favorite Iowa State University resource, which adds reassuringly, "poisoning is not always fatal."

This, on the other hand, is Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) --- tiny flowers, too, but arranged in umbrella-like heads that are lower, broader, denser. The leaves are a giveaway here, too --- delicate and ferny, a little like carrot leaves. That's not surprising since an alternate name is wild carrot, and the two certainly are related.

Queen Anne's lace is an import from Europe and southwest Asia that, while pretty, also is invasive --- occasionally the bane of those who would restore Iowa's prairies. 

This is another of my favorites among the Pin Oak whites --- a fine buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) growing with feet in the water near the observation deck. If you want to examine this fine specimen in person, hurry! It won't last long in this form.

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