Bashful Blooms

Some wildflowers are as showy and extraverted as a Broadway diva.  Daylilies come to mind, with their brassy bugles clamoring for attention; cardinal flowers and bee balm shaking in their vivid garnet and fuchsia flapper-fringe; or heliotropic sunflowers, always mugging for the spotlight.

It’s easy to overlook the quieter talents on these daily walks with my canine companion. Our stretch of the trail is mostly shaded, giving the modest herbs an added scrim of concealment. Even so, I’ve been catching tantalizing glimpses in my peripheral vision and today I decided to allocate additional time so we could meander on and off the path for a closer look.

One strategy employed to cope with stage-fright is to stand in the wings, tucked in behind a leafy curtain. That’s where yellow and orange jewelweed quiver nervously on delicate peduncles, waiting for their cue.

Pokeweed, on the other hand, begins the season feeling shy with demure white and green florets spaced like pearls on a green strand peeping out from a classic sweater-set. By the end of the run, though, she’s wearing deep purple berries on a vivid magenta cord and projecting to the balcony… and the wild birds in the audience eat it up like candy! [Caution: the berries and plant are poisonous to humans and most other mammals, including dogs and cats.]

Mock strawberry is similarly inclined — she comes to the audition dressed in a prim outfit of five yellow petals separated by five pointed green sepals, then transforms for the performance and rocks a crimson-beaded get-up worthy of a femme fatale.

Small parts can add up to a winning career, as demonstrated by many of the blossoms I discovered along the Huckleberry.  Some blend into the crowd as extras, some are more visible but happy to hang out doing their own thing as “background” for the marquee performers.  Examined up close and personal, though, most are lovely, sometimes even stunning, in their own right.

Take nonesuch (aka hop clover), with its miniature (2-4mm) lemon-yellow flowers clustered above three oval leaflets…

or Asiatic daylily (8-10 mm), known to fans as Mouse Ears…

lesser burdock (2 cm), whose acting is understated yet sticks with you (and to your shoes, and your dog’s fur) long after you’ve left the theater…

funny-faced speedwell (5 mm) plays the clown, wearing lots of powder and a smile…

helpful fleabane (~15 mm) is there to offer a cup of tea or escort pesky hangers-on out of a star’s dressing rooms…

and when the production needs a villain, bittersweet nightshade is a poisonous beauty.

Then there’s wild chicory. Like those consummate actors-not-stars, this pale periwinkle blue pro turns it on when the curtain rises but doesn’t stay long at the after-party and never makes tabloid headlines. Once the sun sets and the show is over, they close up shop and become nondescript, blending into their surroundings like a chameleon. Chicory is an extraverted introvert or an introverted extravert, depending on your POV.  Thanks to a workplace questionnaire I recently learned there’s a name for that, and I’m one, too: ambivert. My hair isn’t blue (right now) but chicory and I share a common bond; we both need society and solitude in equal portions.

Is you wildflower kindred spirit an extrovert? An introvert? A little of both? Share a comment and photo below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: caligula199cosmic-anglerDM, Anita GouldSteve Guttman, j_arlecchinoJoyVitalii KhustochkaHomer Edward Price, Jon SullivanLinda Tanner, and zenbikescience.  © 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

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