The cost of daily nature study with my children is this blooming ardor for all things green. I crave the company of wildflowers. There are times when I yearn for nothing more than a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a mute plant nearby. A particular plant with a story it wants me to tell.
There is a carpet of stunning purple-blue wildflowers under the camellias near our front door. Part of me finds herself hoping for a henbit identification. For some unspeakable reason, I maintain a steady affection- an openness to being charmed and re-charmed- for the henbit.
The facts, themselves, don’t explain my affection. As a matter of fact, henbit is a member of the mint family. There are a lot of mints that do not smell minty, some of them are edible and some of them are not. In fact, some of the mints can make you ill. Though henbit lacks the minty smell, it is an edible herb. Eat the Weeds offers a detailed scoop on henbit’s lovely qualities.
The mystery accrues, growing heavy with the weight of various Latin names and specifications. I aim for henbit, in spite of the bits that don’t add up.
The more I study, the more I find satisfaction in touching the flower with all my senses- seeking a scent, lifting it, again, to the light. Sketching and re-sketching. Focusing on the stalk, adding tiny hairs along its length, bonding closer to my subject. Reminiscient of the way writing a poem breaks down the barriers between myself and what I allow myself to feel for and in the world around me, trying to find a name for this flower wraps me tighter into the wonder and magic of its existence.
Though I can’t seem to find a better id- not even on Wildflower Identification Guide- it seems highly unlikely that this would be henbit. It lacks the characteristic heart-shaped, scalloped leaves that grasp the stem and give it the nickname grasping henbit.
I find myself focusing on the leaf shape, wondering if the oval is actually a lyre. Since lyreleaf sage grows well in this part of the country, I convince myself that the characterstic lyre-shaped leaves need not be quite as, well, lyre-like as the name suggests.
At some point I realize that more than mere science is at stake.
Pigmentation takes me further towards distracted fascination and closer to mis-identification. I discover a trance-inducing new blog, Anybody Seen My Focus, where I learn that the leaves of lyreleaf sage reveal the amount of daily sunlight it receives. The greener leaves are usually those of the plants who receive full sun. Purple pigmentation in the edges or flesh of the leaf indicates a shade-dwelling sage. This makes sense given the partial shade in which I found our flower friend.
The King reminds me of our plans for the day, the kids throb their way through the castle, a restless rhythm demands I drop my pencil, turn away from the mystery, and face the familiar music.
At this point, I recognize the religious pilgrim in myself- the spirit steadfastly seeking an intimacy from something outside the material world. My devotion to this simple garden weed becomes a journey, a quest for a name with all the potency of the Holy Grail. So I leave my awe, like a half-knit sock in the fair trade basket woven by women from Nigeria, for another time, another day, another moment.
But it’s hard for me. Easier to drop the sock in the basket than to quash this burning urge which developed in pursuit of a plant.
Purple deadnettle vs. henbit factsheet (UT Extension)
Purple deadnettle (Brooklyn Botanical Garden)
Creeping charlie, or ground ivy (Edible Wild Food)
Beautiful images of henbit flower (Project Noah)
A lovely look at Lyreleaf sage (Anybody Seen My Focus)