wildflower identification

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Chicorium intybus, Asteraceae

Common chicory is a well known plant with a long, recorded tradition: the earliest written mention of its medicinal uses was found in what is known as the Ebers papyrus, an Egyptian herbalism treaty dating back to c.1550 BC. This perennial species, native to Europe and widely naturalised elsewhere, is edible and appreciated for the bitter taste of its leave, which should be picked before the flowering season. I tried the wild form when growing up in Italy, where it is part of the culinary tradition, and found it somewhat similar to dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale, member of the same family) which I used to gather often with my grandparents. My granny used to mention chicory root coffee too, but I never got to try that. Cultivated varieties developed from the XVII century, such as radicchio, endive and catalogna, are probably more familiar as you might be able to find them in stores, they are all quite common in Italy.

As for the medicinal uses, it has traditionally been used as a tonic and laxative, as a vermifuge (to get rid of internal parasites, effective for livestock too, it is also excellent fodder) and to treat jaundice and gout.

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Another lovely flower, this time while hiking in the sierras here in California. I believe this is an Alpine shooting star, Primula tetrandra (please correct me if I’m wrong). It was such a pleasant find in such a beautiful place I am still swooning over it. (taniainnature)

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Last night I realized that, since I’m the only person who has ever seen these two plants, until someone tells for sure me what they are, I can pretend they’re my own private species. So until further notice I’m naming them Podophyllum tulipa, the Mayapple Tulip.

Why not have some fun with it? Meanwhile, I continue to contact plant people and I hope at some point someone will come see them.

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4.9.17 - Something I can’t quite ID. I know it’s something in the nightshade family, probably the Solanum genus. The closest species ID I can determine is Solanum dulcamara, but it’s not quite right - the S. dulcamara species has a set of fused stamens around the pistil, and these don’t seem to have that morphology. The only thing I can think is that perhaps the anthers split apart once the berry starts to form, which it looks like it is - the green at the base of the style is a swollen ovary. Any ideas?

Edit - THANK YOU to @werewolf-kid for the ID! This bugger isn’t even in the same family as the nightshades!
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Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae

Today I went for a hike on the hills west of Glasgow and I was so happy to encounter valerian, a plant I still had to see growing in the wild here in Scotland. This perennial species native to Europe and Asia can grow quite tall (the one I found was probably about 170 cm/5.5 ft) and from a distance it can be easy to mistake it for some kind of Apiacea due to the similar habit, especially considering giant hogweed is almost ubiquitous. 

Valerian, as you might already know, has historically been -and still is- an important plant in herbalism. Known since ancient times, in the Middle Ages it was regarded as a panacea, or universal cure, and used to treat many difficult conditions, including sepsis and even epilepsy. Before the discovery of quinine, it was considered one of the best plants to treat fever. The reason why you might already be familiar with this plant though, is because valerian root extract is still widely used today to ease stress symptoms, mild anxiety and insomnia (I keep some tablets in my medicine cupboard), although this is based on traditional use and not medical evidence. It can actually be addictive, and/or have adverse effects, so it shouldn’t be used for an extended period of time. 

Although I wouldn’t describe the scent of the pinkish flowers as pleasant (cats go crazy for it though), they have found use in the production of perfumes, while the essential oil of leaves and roots is used as a flavouring and in aroma therapy. Similarly to comfrey, the leaves can be used to produce a liquid plant feed rich in phosphorus, while the entire plant is a good compost activator. 

If you get a hold of some seeds, sow them in spring in a moist spot, hoverflies will love the flowers (there were many buzzing around this plant, too fast for me to take good photos though.) 

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Symphytum asperum, Boraginaceae

If you are interested in attracting more pollinators to your garden, especially bumblebees, grow some comfrey, rough comfrey in the case of these pictures. In the few minutes I spent around this colony growing along the river Clyde I took a dozen shots of different bumblebees (of which these were the best as I should ditch my phone and switch to a decent camera). No other group of plants in bloom in the surrounding area was experiencing the same amount of insect activity. 

Aside from being clearly beneficial to the bees, comfrey - a number of species within the Symphytum genus - has also been used as an edible plant (which can cause damage to the liver over time so I wouldn’t really use it that way) and as a dynamic accumulator. The latter expression means that comfrey is one of those plants which send down a deep and robust set of taproots and gather nutrients in the leaves. This phenomenon is useful in two ways: as the root system draws water and nutrients upwards, nearby plants get to enjoy the effects of capillarity, at least to a certain extent depending on their distance, while the large leaves can be periodically harvested throughout the growing season to be added to the compost box or turned into liquid fertiliser. 

Comfrey is often mentioned in permaculture design, and generally positioned below the drip line of orchard trees, where its qualities are most useful.   

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Chamaenerion angustifolium, Onagraceae

After flowering profusely in dense pink strands throughout summer, fireweed, or great willowherb, is now rapidly maturing and bursting with the white silky fluff which will aid its seeds being dispersed by the wind. A very common wildflower in most cool temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, it is very abundant here in Scotland, where it often heavily colonises roadsides and hedges, being omnipresent in urban disturbed sites. Although it is considered a weed, when its growth is limited to a regular patch in a suitable position it can look very dramatic, as it can reach a considerable height and forms a very dense wall of thousands of flowers, extremely attractive to wildlife. 

All young parts of the plant are edible and the dried leaves can be used to brew a tea. Fireweed has also been traditionally used as a medicinal plant, mostly as an anti-inflammatory both for external and internal use. When used internally it’s said to have some mild sedative and hypnotic effects, so best not used in large quantities. 

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Filipendula ulmaria, Rosaceae

A few days ago I came across a huge colony of meadowsweet growing in the hollow at the foot of a low hill and, as the name suggests, I could smell it before even getting in sight of it. It was so strong I can still smell it now as I’m writing and looking at the photos, the tricks of a human brain. Native to Europe and Western Asia, it prefers cool, moist areas, so it’s easy to find it growing near water and in damp grassland and it’s quite common here in Scotland, but nonetheless a plant of great importance. 

At the end of the IX century the aspirin we still use today was developed from the salicin present in meadowsweet as a milder and better alternative to the preparations traditionally derived from the willow tree, but the inflorescence had already been used as an anti-inflammatory and against fever since historical times. The leaves are also edible, and together with the aromatic flowers, have been extensively used to make tea and to flavour and sweeten other drinks. It is very attractive to wildlife and a great addition to a herb garden, especially if you have a damp, semi-shaded corner you struggle to fill, or a garden pond. In the next months you can collect the small, half-moon-shaped seeds or divide a clump to propagate it, just make sure you are on land where you are allowed to do so.