Claytonia virginica: Virgina Springbeauty (aka ‘fairy spud’)

Virginia Springbeauty

You know what happens when you look at something closely? This white-appearing flower from my height turned out to have pink-magenta stripes when I began to inspect it in Lightroom. Imagine my surprise! A member of the purslane family, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says of this tiny little flower that First Nations people and colonists use the small tuber root for food. It has a sweet, chestnut-like flavor. Apparently, fairies also used it as a potato, as one of its common names is fairy spud.

It was named for John Clayton, an early Virginia naturalist. Clayton authored Flora Virginica, a colonial-era manual of Virginia plants. Initially, the plant was in the purslane family, but more recent DNA evidence moved it to the Miner’s lettuce family (Marion Blois Lobstein, Prince William Wildflower Society). A mature plant can reach 6-10 inches in height, so I need to get out there and see how it looks today! Lobstein further reports the underground corms (the tuber part) stores energy for the next spring’s development of the above ground portions. The flower buds are formed in the fall under the leaves that fall and they emerge in the spring. Is that not proof of the incredible qualities of the ecosystem? Just think, back in February under all that ice and snow, covered by those decaying leaves from fall, flower buds were already waiting to emerge!

The tiny plant is of special value to native bees as a food, and supports biological control as it “attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that prey on pest insects” (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). And if that was not amazing enough, consider this:

There are five stamens with pink anthers and pink filaments. The filaments reflect ultraviolet radiation which insect pollinators can see. The pistil has a superior ovary and a three-cleft style. The first day the flower opens, its stamens are functional and release pollen. The next day–and up to seven more days–the pistil is receptive to pollen. During this period the stamens bend the anthers back against the petals.

the ultraviolet reflecting filaments that are also bent back may act as nectar lines to guide the insect pollinators down to the nectary glands at the base of each petal. The nectar production os spring beauty is very generous. at least 23 different species of native bees, bumblebees, honeybees, and syrphid flies have been observed visiting spring beauty flowers.

Marion Blois Lobstein

Take one more look at those tiny little mechanisms in the center of that tiny little flower that play such an important role in the ecosystem:

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Oxalis drummondii: Drummond’s Wood-sorrel

Why are there so many varieties of oxalis, also known as wood-sorrel? I suppose as do humans through genetics and the mixing of gene pools, we just keep re-creating species. While it is a fascinating-to-me exploration, I have been thinking anew of the work that other scientists do in protecting the environment and realizing that what started a couple of years ago as an Act of Restorative Kindness once I discovered what was happening on my hillside after the great fire of 2015. When I vowed to build an ARK, I had no idea what would begin to transpire on this mound of dirt.

While bringing the trash bin up the hill Monday, I had noticed new blooms in a patch of ground cover at the bottom of the hill, nestled in amongst the composting leaves from fall and winter. It took most of this morning for me to convince myself of this subspecies of oxalis, combing through the USDA plant database, the Wildflower.org database, Mississippi State University wildflower center, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and The Belmont Rooster. Out of the gazillions of photographs of oxalis, I could only find a couple that had markings similar to the tripartite leaves on this plant. While white clover and pink oxalis have been here since the fire, this is the first time I have spotted these beauties. Oxalis leaves are heart shaped variations that can include green or purple, and slight variations of the magenta color. It took a lot of photographs on a lot of websites to realize there are slight variations in the shapes of the leaves and the placement of the magenta marking, but whew! I now know more about the difference between oxalis and clover and shamrock than I ever thought about.

Apparently, plenty of folks will use herbicides to rid their lawn of members of the oxalis family because if you put oxalis in the search box of your web browser, it brings up a gazillion sites for how to kill it with chemicals. I am just averse to spraying poisons on the ground that delivers to my water system, or covers the food that birds, bees, and butterflies eat. I mow the upper part of the hill directly in front of the house, but the perimeters are gone to wild and I love it. I even leave the patches of clover and oxalis in the top section until after they finish flowering–but that is just my preference as I continue to note the benefits it provides to the flora and fauna on the hill.

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Valerianella radiata: “Beaked cornsalad”

Torilis arvensis (left) and Valerianella radiata (right)

I woke early this morning and it was so beautiful out, I took the camera after feeding dogs, cats, and birds. I decided to walk down to the bottom of the driveway to check out a patch of blue flowers I had spotted the day before while bringing up the trash bin. On the way, I noticed a plant I have not seen before–the one to the right of the common hedge parsley.

It took a while to discover the identity of valerianella, common name “beaked cornsalad” according to the USDA natural resources conservation service. It can grow 6-15 inches high, and has stems and branches that are divided in Ys. The leaves are opposite each other and the tiny white flowers are clustered at the stem tip. It is native to the US and ranges from Texas to Florida, and from the Gulf coast to Illinois and across to New Jersey.

The stems and branches creating the Y is more visible in the photographs below.

Common hedge parsley, field hedge parsley, or spreading hedge parsley

This stuff is found all over the place around here. Native only to British Columbia in North America, it was introduced and has spread widely. The only place it is listed as an obnoxious weed is Washington state, across the border from its home.

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The thrill of being wrong: Learning something

I am not a redbud

When we moved into this house in January 2004, this tree was a short little fellow. The photograph below is November 2003, when we began looking at the house as it was under renovation. You can make out this tree as the tiny little stick with no leaves, just to the right of the window, barely visible through the magnolia leaves. (Note: not to be confused with the taller stick at the bottom of the picture, where as he was wont to do with everything, Will left his shovel sticking in the ground.)

Taylor Hill Cottage 2003

The first year it bloomed, my friend told me it was a redbud tree. Not being from Mississippi but from dry northwest Texas, I had no frame of reference and never questioned it. A few weeks ago, when I posted signs of spring, Katie asked if it was a maple. I responded with what I had been told: redbud. When I began looking, although when it first began to bud out it seemed similar enough to pictures of redbud trees, the more this tree cycled, I was questioning that. (Thank you Katie! I am always willing to admit I am wrong, or might be wrong. I hope it makes up for other traits that may not always be my best side.)

As time passed and I watched the cycles from bud to bloom to fruit to leaves, that part of me that hungers to understand what I do not kept thinking: is that really a redbud? I kept looking at photographs, and searching Mississippi trees and coming up with zero. Yesterday, I located a site from Mississippi State University that was a supplement for tree identification: bark, leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruit. I carefully examined the leaves that were now clearly defined and began to search the text. Voila! Right there under species of maple: the boxelder maple. The accompanying photographs convinced me this is a boxelder, a rapidly growing species often found in Mississippi. From there, it was simple to find pictures that confirmed it.

While I am cautious to a fault when posting, I have been known to err. I am also quick–once I know, to correct said errors. I think of it as evidence of the developmental model: development never ceases as long as we are open to examining our thinking.

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Braised chicken thighs with white wine, garlic, rosemary, and mushrooms

Rosemary joined us for dinner. Of course, she (and garlic) were only on my plate, compliments of the mini-saute pan with my own seasonings. Rand’s plate also did not have broccoli on it: He sides with George H. W. Bush on the belief that broccoli is not to be eaten.

We have generally always eaten chicken breasts, but more and more, they are tough, fibrous, and tasteless, including the alleged organic cage free chicken. I only used chicken thighs for making Moroccan chicken as the darker meat was more flavorful in the spicy stew. After the last organic cage free chicken breasts were essentially inedible, I braised chicken thighs with herbs de provence followed with a light creamy sauce. Rand, who rarely comments on food other than to give me a look (like last night when he saw me mincing garlic and rosemary and I assured him it was not going into the main dish, just mine), said the chicken was good–“better than that last one that I could not eat.”

I know people who prefer dark meat–my colleagues at work always wanted thighs on fried chicken Thursdays. Maybe I get it now.

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Herb will be coming to dinner tonight

Cilantro waiting for tacos

I love cilantro but I am the only one who lives here who does. A bunch usually wilts before I can use it all. This way, I can just snip what I need and a “bunch” will last me spring through fall.

Sweet basil and rosemary

Sounds like a broken record…but I am also the only one who lives here who loves rosemary. They will eat basil at least. The rosemary was not exactly luscious at the local nursery, so I got two plants. The other one is my ‘backup’ in case this one does not produce well. I love the smell of rosemary. My dilemma for tonight is rosemary chicken or tacos with cilantro?

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Spring cleaning…the easy kind

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)

I have been tidying up outside now that the weather is warmer and not constantly raining. That entailed a trip to pick up new herbs and plants Monday. I spied this English daisy and though I have never seen one before, I loved the difference it presented. The English daisy is from the common European species of daisy.

They can range from white to red, and this one is delightfully multi-colored.

This is the current stage of the redbud tree’s blooms as of Monday morning…and by yesterday evening, the leaves are beginning to appear. These little blooms seem so delicate, and then they begin to fall all over the place as the leaves start to appear.

Johnny Winter guards the pansies

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Spring flowers: Viola, pansy, common blue violet

Viola or Johnny Jump-up

I spotted this flower getting ready to mow the front yard Sunday afternoon. It is a re-seeded viola from last year’s flowers. I did not know they would do that, but apparently, they can re-seed themselves. They are sometimes called a Johnny Jump-up due to their propensity to appear in the lawn. The viola has 2 petals up and 3 down, which distinguishes it from a pansy with 4 up and 1 down. I carefully mowed around it. Whilst also carefully mowing around it, I discovered yet another surprise. Under the magnolia tree, there is a large patch of tiny blue flowers that have never appeared before.

These are Viola sororia, or common blue violet. They are also in two other sections of the yard. I mowed around this large patch near the magnolia, because (1) I like looking at them, and (2) the butterflies and bees are now out and they serve a useful purpose in the eco system.

Violas and Pansies?

These may be a mix of both viola and pansy, as several seem to have 3 petals down, and others only 1 petal down. They are both members of the viola family, so while all pansies are violas, all violas are not pansies.

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Four corners in a Square: DeWitt AR

DeWitt City Hall

DeWitt, Arkansas boasts a downtown square that was designed as

…a continuous street around a public square with one access street in the middle of each block. The northwest, northeast, and southwest corners have unique lots containing buildings with chamfered corner entrances.

History of the Square, Dewitt, Arkansas

While it is not mentioned in the ‘History’ above, De Witt’s square also has two chamfered corner entrances on two of those side streets. Like many of the interesting small rural towns I have explored in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, I discovered this one when I located a post office and mural there that had not yet been documented on the Living New Deal. Though that is often the reason for a trip (investigating the many existing New Deal Administration buildings, bridges, parks, dams, roads, etc.), I generally manage to find other sites to explore while present…DeWitt presented some unusual options. If I speculated–and I usually do–I would assume the fourth corner of the square–now a vacant lot–once held a chamfered corner building also. The sidewalk remnants bore testimony to a chamfered entrance to whatever building once occupied the southeast corner.

The DeWitt City Hall/Police Department was constructed in 1954 for the Bank and Trust, and in 1979, the city hall moved in. The corner is faced in cut stone, dentils at the cornice, and employs glass block windows on the sides. While the building is newer, it reflects the style of earlier bank buildings.

DeWitt First National Bank

The First National Bank at DeWitt opened in 1912, remodeling the building in 1923 and again in 1940. They survived the Great Depression to become the oldest bank in Arkansas County. When neighboring cities banks failed, First National acquired them. DeWitt fared well in the depression years, due to the diversified economy. Many new business buildings were constructed around the square in the 1920s and 1930s. During the 30s, the town had two rice mills and two saw mills, in addition to a stave mill, three hickory mills and two cotton gins (Sandra Taylor Smith, 2010, nomination for DeWitt Commercial Historic District, National Register of Historic Places).

In 1915, the bank advertised”

FOR RENT.

Quarters for modern barber shop. In new bank building at DeWitt, Ark. Water, electric lights, plate glass front; only modern quarters in city. Apply to FIRST NATIONAL BANK. DeWitt, Ark.

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Jan 31, 1915, p. 15.

The original plate glass front was replaced with glass blocks during one of the remodels. Of note also, the bank offered farmers free use of half of his one page space for advertising under the plan to “Make Arkansas county feed herself.”

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Dec 30, 1917, p. 14
DeWitt Era-Enterprise

DeWitt began publishing newspapers in 1858, and has been home to 17 newspapers since then, including the Enterprise which failed prior to 1882. In 1882, Charles H. Spiller founded the DeWitt New Era. In 1929, Spiller and his DeWitt New Era absorbed the DeWitt Enterprise founded in 1916, and published as the DeWitt Era-Enterprise, which continues. They celebrated their Sesquicentennial Edition in 2003 and continues publishing in 2021.

This building was constructed in the early 1950s to house a farm co-op business. It went out of business in 1954, and Young’s Department Store was opened. When Young’s closed in 1981, the DeWitt Publishing Company moved in.

This chamfered corner entrance building was constructed ca. 1927. The decorative brick design is called zipper brick in History of the Square (2013), however, Mississippi Department of Archives and History refers to this design as a pigeonhole corner. It housed a shoe and clothing store in the 1950s, and the DeWitt Era-Enterprise printing office was in it in 1933. When the newspaper moved to the former Young’s store, a beauty shop opened in the building. The other corner building still extant is at 202 Court Square, constructed ca. 1917, and has been altered. It retains its beveled entrance door but portions of the building have been altered.

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Van Buren, AR: Downtown Historic District

Downtown Historic District, Van Buren AR

In 2010, we headed to Colorado with grand vacation plans and a dog. Our first stop along the route was Van Buren, Arkansas. It was like stepping back in time, and it had its share of round and chamfered corners. The 3-story building with the corner turret at the right of the photograph is the former Crawford County Bank, constructed 1889. The first two floors have chamfered corners. The third floor was added in 1905. A sliver of the first Citizens Bank is visible just past the Crawford County bank.

The Citizens Bank has recently purchased twenty-five foot frontage of the Ross property, adjoining the property, owned by the Crawford County Bank, and the two banks will, on the first of July, begin the erection of a fine bank building to be occupied by both banks. The building will be an ornament to the town and its erection is indication of the prosperity of its owners.

Daily Arkansas Gazette, May 9, 1889 p. 7.

The July news was that the two banks, having ‘joined forces’ would erect a building of three stories, with a pressed brick, iron and glass front. The building was designed by architect ‘Mr. Burger’ of Fort Smith. Construction began in August.

In 1904, Citizens Bank announced it would erect a new building. The 2-story yellow brick building across the street boasts a chamfered entrance. The Crawford County Bank closed in 1929 with the crash preceding the Great Depression. Citizens Bank continues operation in Van Buren.

Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company Building, Van Buren AR

The Anheuser-Busch building was constructed in 1897. The glass portion of the first floor is supported by cast-iron columns and a cast-iron beam supporting the brick second floor. The canted corner entrance (with its supporting column) is one of my favorites. The large showcase windows were intended to enable pedestrians to view the brewing process. The production of beer ended with Prohibition in 1920, but they continued to manufacture near-beer and sodas.

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