At this time of year many plants are putting out – or have already have put out – heart-shaped leaves that stay close to the ground. Like the violets in my last post, for example. Or like these, which belong to wild ginger (Asarum canadense). —>
I was thinking recently about two other species with similar cordate basal leaves. When young, they are easily confused with each other, at least at first glance. Luckily, I was able to find both growing right next to each other!
<—At bottom center in this photo is a particularly despised alien invasive called garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Surrounding it is a much-loved native called golden ragwort (Packera aurea, formerly Senecio aureus). Here’s a little primer on how to tell them apart.
These are leaves of golden ragwort. ->
Note that the leaf edges are somewhat crenate (scalloped), almost serrate, and that the leaf vein pattern is pinnate. The underside of the leaf has a purplish blush.
This one belongs to garlic mustard. –>
The leaf edges are clearly scalloped rather than toothed. The leaf venation is also pinnate, but also netted, giving the leaf a bit of a crinkled appearance.
<— This is a stem leaf of golden ragwort. Look at how different it is from the stem leaves of garlic mustard [below], which look similar to the basal leaves. Also in this photo you can see the flower buds at top.
Here are buds of golden ragwort. By the time the plants reach this stage, they are easy to tell apart.
Garlic mustard is in the Brassicaceae, a family which also includes several of our native spring ephemerals, like the toothworts and rockcresses. Golden ragwort is in the Asteraceae, and is by far the earliest blooming native of that family (in this region, anyway).
I never thought of the difficulty of distinguishing them while young. I suppose I never looked that closely until such plants are more mature.