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Carpets of springtime

2011 March 3

PHOTO BY STAN H. LEWIS. In close-up, henbit flowers seem to speak.

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

During the past week, a number of local folks have been curious about those blue and purple carpets of color on the roadsides and in the medians. Stopping for coffee at Johnny’s on Saturday morning, photographer Stan Lewis also quizzed me about the patches of color showing up on roadsides.

I explained to him that he was seeing purple-flowered henbits and blue-flowered speedwells, a sure sign that spring is upon us.
I’ve never succeeded in getting a nice close-up of purple henbit, Lamium amplexicaule. Up close, those little upright tubular flowers look like caricatures of gossipers. They always make me smile. Knowing Stan likes to photograph birds and insects, I challenged him to get down on his hands and knees for some belly-botany closer looks at these little flowers.

I was well into another Flora story for this week when I received Stan’s images of his roadside observations. So happy was I with Stan’s close-ups that I decided to focus instead on those close-to-the-ground flowers that thrive beneath roadside mowing machines. Those very same little beauties drive some home gardeners insane when they find colorful carpets in lawns meant to be uniformly green.

You don’t have to stop along busy roadsides to get a closer look. You can do it more safely along the grassy edges of the Carrboro Century Center, the lawn at the corner of Weaver and Greensboro streets or, if you’re lucky, you’ll have them frolicking about in your own yard and garden.

They are annuals, imported centuries ago from Europe, that grow in the winter, flower in early spring and are gone by the time many of us are planting our second or third sets of tomatoes to sacrifice to late frosts.
This year the speedwells outnumber the henbits in my yard. Veronica persica, common field speedwell, is the showiest of several common speedwells.

I enjoy Richard Mabey’s plant descriptions in Flora Britannica. About speedwells, he writes: “Speedwells are roadside plants which speed you on your journey. Just why they acquired this reputation is unknown, but in Ireland they were sometimes sewn onto the clothes of travelers for good luck. In the eighteenth century they acquired another odd reputation, for curing gout, and ‘Sir’ John Hill reported that ‘the dried leaves picked from the stalks were sold in our markets and the people made tea of them. The opinion was so prevalent, that the plant was in a manner destroyed for many miles about London, but like all other things want for truth for their foundation, it came to nothing.’”

Well now, I rather like the notion of speedwell bringing good luck. I’m happy that it carpets my yard, beckoning springtime’s return.

Email Ken Moore at
Read more Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

PHOTO BY STAN H. LEWIS. Speedwell's blue colors beckon spring's return.

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