Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Field Notes--Mystery Plants

mo chotto matte te, ne....
Egretta garzetta--Little Egret (Kosagi)

Riding home this afternoon after picking up my daughter from Kumon, I looked up to see a large, prow-shaped shadow swooping in for a landing on the power line above my head.  It just slays me, for some reason, seeing enormous wading birds perched precariously on power lines...

 ...Kosagi came to visit this morning, too. in amongst the now exploded cattails...

It got down cold last night--puddles froze, and water dripping from an old outdoor faucet at the temple formed an optical illusion....

 I meant to go straight on home, but got distracted by the neighbor's Boke (Japanese Flowering Quince)--some of the recently opened flowers were variegated pink and white.

Yatsuba ("eight fingers", so named for the eight-lobed leaves)

...I turned around to go, and noticed this--a plant I've seen before without knowing what it was. And since there was no friendly O-Baasan around to tell me the name of it, I was forced to turn to Google Image search...

Aha!  Yatsuba--yatsu means "eight", clearly a reference to the eight-lobed leaves...
Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)
In fact, I remembered seeing this back in November while out on a walk with my husband.  We went winding around up the hills behind the soccer field and the crawdad pond.  I saw quite a few of these in bloom up on the mountain.

Flower umbels like snowballs in fall...

White snowball flowers bloom in late fall above large, leathery palmate leaves.
Umbels like this are characteristic of  plants in both the Apiaceae family (carrots, parsley, dill, and fennel, for example) and the Araliaceae family (ivy, aralia, and fatsia)

green onions growing out of a crack between sidewalk and wall

...In fact, if that flower shape puts you in mind of an onion in flower, that's because onion flowers, too, are an umbel (family Alliacea).

When the flowers are done, the heads become the fruiting body--which are eventually black.  The ones I saw today were still green...

Noticing the Yatsuba again without knowing its name reminded me of another mystery plant I've seen in a couple of places without having the faintest idea of what it was.

The plant to the right I noticed on my bike on the way to baseball practice--and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I screeched to a stop and gaped--what on earth?  Nearly six feet tall (taller than me, anyway), and hung with puffy, green No--not flowers, pods.  Pods with hair-like, spiky protuberances all over, and which tickled at the memory...

The crazy thing was growing right up out of a crack in the pavement. 

 Looking closer, I found the small white flowers.  From this angle they seemed vaguely orchid-shaped...

...until I looked at some blooming above my head and could see 5 starry petals.  Not orchid-shaped, but pretty.

I took a closer look at one of the hairy pods that still naggingly reminded me of something I'd seen before...

And, again, nobody about to pester about the name of this plant, which wasn't "planted" since it was growing out of a crack in the sidewalk just outside someone's garden.

...a step even closer revealed something else...

Aphid-like (to my eyes) bugs, brightly yellow-orange against the pale spring green of the pods...

ladybug has a field day... (nom, nom, nom)

...the bugs were fascinating.  I could hardly tear my eyes away--so I took video of them.

This completely grossed my husband out...

Inside the community center was a display of Hagaki (hand-painted postcards)-- one with the plant I had seen on the way!

A Haiku...


Full of balloons
even now they break
and fly away

...but no mention of the name of the plant.  There was no help for it--Google Image search to the rescue!

Asclepias physocarpa--Baloonplant, or Swan Plant

Aha--Balloonplant, a species of milkweed.  That's what was nagging--those seedpods reminded me of the milkweed I used to play with in the Field as a child (only those were oblong, not round, and we only played with them after they were dried out and brown.  My fingers can still feel the silk of the seeds and the smoothness of the inside of the dry pods...).  And those bugs?  Aphis nerii--the milkweed aphid.

I thought they were weirdly pretty--my husband, on the other hand, now thinks I'm Officially Nuts. ;-))


  1. Love the Fatsia. It's a great shade plant in our NC, USA, area. Related, of course, to Hedera and when you can see the flowers/fruits of those (we have lots of adult (also non-vining) cultivars available) the realationship is clear. The fun thing is that the Fatsia bloom in late winter, Ivies bloom in summer here and insects love them. There is a great hybrid available: Fatshedera which is a viny shrubby plant. The variegated form is lovely.

    I was playing with some Asclepias balloons recently. Fun for kids. I'd never seen the flowers--pretty. The aphids are really cool--and do come in lots of colors!

    Thanks for the great pics.

  2. love that quince, and the Balloon plant is awesome! It really does remind me of milkweed

  3. I pass by several specimens of Fatsia as I walk in London on a daily basis; I've always wondered what they were, but as they're clearly not a native plant my botanical guide hasn't been to much help. Fatsia, well, that's one I shall remember. They will soon be in bloom, I think. What strikes me as peculiar is how confused the flora seems in this part of the world; the Primula was blooming in late November, before the snow, and now only the withered flower heads remain...

  4. Is it me, or does that Little Egret look to be in an advanced stage of cheesed off-ness?

  5. DAZ!! He was just trying to keep his balance;-)) Did you get a new monitor?? Yay! We missed you!

  6. New monitor, followed closely(ish) by a new (to me - free gift from a friend who updated recently) graphics card. The old one had a couple of badly made contacts on the bit that slots into the motherboard, which is possibly what caused the problem in the first place. I got that monitor that was on ebay; 99 pence!

    Awww shucks @ being missed. You should buy a better rifle, then...

  7. 99pence?! Seriously?! Awesome! Anyway--it was *very lonely*. Started to worry you had the floo or something dreadful!

  8. @Lynn--thanks! Glad you enjoyed the pics! I think the balloons look like fun--although these particular balloons were *crawling* with aphids, so I didn't pick any for the kids to play with! I'd love to see the hybrid! I wonder if anybody has some in a garden around here... (should look up to see what it looks like so's to be able to identify it just in case I *do* see it in somebody's garden).

  9. @Sarah--when I finally figured out what the Balloonplant was, I couldn't believe I didn't figure out that it's a type of milkweed. I played with those for *years* when I was a kid (different type, but still...). D'oh!

    @lostinsophistication--that's the thing about moving to a different part of the world! Everything blooms at different times, species are different, and with the abundance of garden hybrids, you never know whether you're looking at an imported hybrid or an unknown native species! *sigh*