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From roadside waif to garden star

2012 September 13

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

Before I launch into this week’s Flora story, I want to describe my plans for the next couple of months.

After five-plus years sharing a “closer look” at the nature of the roadsides and forests of our own back yards, I’m taking a break for a good part of this fall.

Wild bean displays flowers and fruit like a whirling ballerina. Photo by Brian Stokes

For eight weeks I’ll be co-teaching “A Closer Look at Nature” with North Carolina artist Robert Johnson at Penland School of Crafts.

I plan to contribute a couple of columns from Penland during late September through mid-November.

However, before taking leave I will have prepared a couple of stories for upcoming Floras. One is another look at our local flora through the words and paintings of Cornelia Phillips Spencer. Another column to anticipate is a description of a rare opportunity coming up on Oct. 21 to visit a nearby private arboretum of more than 4,000 labeled trees and shrubs.

During my timeout you may recognize some past Floras. Many of you will not have read them; hopefully others will appreciate revisiting seasonal themes related to the spectacular and lingering fall color of our Piedmont.

Wild bean can be a garden feature if given freedom to climb a garden trellis. Photo by Brian Stokes

One notable repeat, I promise, will be “Remembering Persimmon Pete,” and this time around Pete Ivey’s famous persimmon recipe will be included!

I think you will also be pleased to have Flora guest columns from staff of the N.C. Botanical Garden. They are every bit as passionate about the local wild plants as I am, and you folks are in for an offering of new stories and ways of taking a “closer look” at the world around us.

All that said, I now have to share with you a most amazing recent botanical experience.

The sand bean, also called wild pink bean, Strophostyles umbellata, appeared in last week’s Flora hidden within one of Cornelia Spencer’s late-summer flower bouquet portraits. This mostly unobserved little wild bean may be considered a waif of a plant along roadsides and forest edges.

Try to imagine my surprise, delight and utter disbelief when one morning last week I walked up to woods-walking friend Brian Stokes’ cottage entrance to discover a 6-foot-long trellis-fence of this native wild bean along his entrance pathway.

I was blown away! That trellis of hundreds and hundreds of pink bean flowers and beans in all stages of maturity were the result of two tiny “weedlings” rescued from his entrance drive and settled into two large containers. Brian admitted having to water those containers every day when we didn’t have ample rainfall, but they were just a few steps from his door, and what a reward from such a minimal horticultural effort.

As in Jock Lauterer’s “A Thousand Words,” no more description is required. I have urged Brian to save seed of those wild pink beans for the botanical garden’s annual members’ seed distribution.

On your next outing, perhaps you’ll discover this spectacular waif of a plant beneath your feet, and if you plant a few bean seeds, you too may produce a garden star.

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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