Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On shrubs and subs

In the cities, we plant floral borders to our walkways. Alongside our human paths in the deep forests, where we've cleared away the duff and rotting branches, the borders plant themselves. Seen this trip; lichens and mosses, wild strawberries and the tiny native trailing blackberry, vanilla leaf and wild columbine. And the tiny twinflowers and tidy bunchberries.

Twinflower, Linnaea borealis

These little flowers stand less than 4 inches tall. I went through my guide to wildflowers twice, page by page, from lilies to broomrape; the twinflowers weren't there. I checked the index, which I should have done first, but never do, and there they were, among the shrubs.

I always think of shrubs as being larger plants, smaller than trees, but at least knee-high. And the twinflower doesn't look shrub-like. But a shrub is defined as a woody plant, usually multi-stemmed, usually under 20 ft. tall. No lower limit.

The twinflower has woody stems, but they trail along the ground, sending the short flower stalks up into the light above. Each stalk ends in a Y, and bears two bell-like flowers. Look at the photo above; a half-dozen or so "clappers" dangle below their "bells". The leaves are evergreen, to match the forest above.

Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, aka Dwarf dogwood. With twinflower for size comparison.

If the twinflower is a shrub, why isn't the bunchberry? It has trailing, somewhat woody stems, is in the same genus as the Pacific dogwood, a tree, and the red-osier dogwood, another shrub. Maybe it's that the stems are only somewhat woody. Wikipedia calls it a subshrub.

The actual flowers are small, greenish yellow, with purplish centres; four bluish white bracts at the centre of the leaf whorl upstage them, at least to our eyes. The bees aren't fooled.

The leaves are semi-evergreen, and the fruit is a red berry, edible, they say. I haven't tried them. Yet.

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