Sunday, June 22, 2008


If you drive along the back roads of northern Wisconsin this time of year, you'll be certain to see an orange mist covering some of the grassy areas beyond the gravel shoulder. That would be caused by Orange Hawkweed (Pilosella aurantiaca). I spotted a large patch of P. aurantiaca growing in a field near Bayfield last week. Due to the colder Spring, the flowers were smaller and just barely emerging. Luckily the color lasts a long time due to an interesting and lovely configuration of multiple capitulae (flower heads) all clustered at the end of the stem. When one fades, another is already taking its place. It's not uncommon for two or three of the flower heads to be blooming at once.

While not native to North America, I like Hawkweed. It's considered invasive in most of the western states and is banned from cultivation in Australia and Tasmania. It is considered evil, which is why the folks down under call it the Devil's Paintbrush. It is considered a protected species in some areas of Europe.

It's interesting to me what makes something a weed. Again, it's all about context. I see a field of lovely orange flowers, others see a patch of an invasive species. I guess if Hawkweed were taking over 500 acres of wheat on my farm, I'd consider it a weed alright. But for now, it's not a weed, despite its name. It's a lovely spot of orange in an otherwise monolithic world of greenness.

Respectfully submitted,


P.S. Where did Hawkweed get its name? It's the trivia question for the week. "I'll take Asteraceae for $600, Alex..."

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