Not flowers

Posted on July 20, 2009


For people who are sick and tired of blogs full of flower pictures—you know who you are—here are some bracing images of Not Flowers encountered on our morning walk.

Whenever it rains lately – which is lamentably often – our road is full of slugs.  I do not know why they become suicidal in the rain.  I thought this one was rather attractive and made a nice contrast to the asphalt.  I will forbear to show you what became of him when a neighbor drove by in an SUV.

Slug on asphalt

From slugs we move on to snakes in the grass.  Or snakegrass anyway—horsetail, scouring weed—Equisetum when it’s out in public.  This stuff is fascinating.  The Wikipedia article says the genus is a living fossil, related to plants that dominated the Paleozoic forests but to nothing else alive today.  It spreads by rhizomes or by spores, and at least one species of it is growing in large colonies along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay.  It’s apparently toxic to horses

Scourweed bottlebrushes (Equisetum)

Equisetum beaded with rain

I gather the fluffy green bottlebrush shapes are sterile stems that reproduce by underground rhizomes.  They’re soft and pliant if you’re just walking through the patch, but they contain a lot of silica.  According to a botanist at CMU’s Biological Research Station on Beaver Island, early settlers used handfuls of this plant to scrub their dishes, thus the name scourweed or scouring weed. 

These images give you a better idea of where the name snakegrass came from.  These are the fertile stems, producing spores from those cone-like structures at the tips.

.Snakegrass in MaySnakegrass in July
.Snakegrass in July - 2Snakegrass4

Equisetum is a reed, and as you can see, a fairly aggressive one. It’s smaller than phragmites, so it wouldn’t spoil a view or keep a person from walking through the area, but it does seem to crowd out other species where it spreads via rhizomes. People who keep horses, or people who cut hay to feed horses, are concerned about it and make efforts to eradicate it, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. And maybe it shouldn’t. I’m just wondering.