I made a promise to myself at the start of this wildflower season to make no assumptions about plant identification, and to question everything, even the things I was sure of.

That’s what got me to the iris odyssey, not to mention the fleabanes, and meadow rues, and white violets.

It’s been an education, if frustrating. My latest challenge has been to identify this pretty pink thing.

I knew right away that it was in the Polygonaceae – the jointed stem gives it away – and was reasonably sure it’s a Persicaria species. But which one?

Unable to tell just from pictures, I printed a few pages from both the Weakley Flora and eFloras and hit the trail, intending to key it out in situ. It keyed out to Persicaria densiflora.

However, some authorities do not currently recognize P. densiflora as a species; they lump it with P. glabra.

I’m not sure at this point that I can recreate the process that led me to identify this as Persicaria coccinea; it involved lengthy internet forum conversations and some research.

A few things to consider…

from “The case for recognizing both Persicaria amphibia and Persicaria coccinea in North America” on iNaturalist.org:

…discussions of Persicaria are complicated by two and a half centuries of back and forth generic lumping and splitting…there now exist an inordinate number of synonyms for every species, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

It’s also worth noting that every single characteristic matches the description of scarlet smartweed (aka P. coccinea) on Illinois Wildflowers.

Of course, it would appear that just like P. densiflora, P. coccinea is no longer an accepted name; ITIS lists it as a synonym of P. amphibia.

So the flower pictured here could be Persicaria glabra (smooth smartweed), but is more likely Persicaria amphibia (water smartweed)… until botanists and taxonomists recognize the validity of Persicaria coccinea.

I’m calling it a DPP.

Spikes and Spheres

Small flowers in small inflorescences on two small plants, both very common in Iceland.


Bistorta vivipara
aka Persicaria bistorta
aka Polygonum viviparum
alpine bistort
Icelandic: kornsúra


Arctic bistort is found in subarctic regions around the northern hemisphere; in the US, there are a few scattered occurrences in northern New England and the upper Midwest, as well as in the Rocky Mountains south to New Mexico. In Iceland it grows in a variety of habitats at elevations from sea level to over 3,000 feet.

Considering how many different binomial names this plant has, it may be a stretch to say that there are relatives in Maryland, but jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana, which should be blooming about now), is very common here, and another dozen plus species of Persicaria can be found here.

There isn’t much interesting about this plant except that it mostly reproduces vegetatively (instead of sexually) by means of bulbils. If you zoom in on the picture you can see bulbils at the bottom end of the inflorescence. The bulbils will drop off and form new plants that are clones of the parent. The specific epithet vivipara refers to this floral analog of giving birth to live young.


Tofieldia pusilla
Scottish asphodel,
Scotch false asphodel
Icelandic: sýkigras


Despite the descriptor “Scottish” in the common name, this plant is native to subarctic zones around the globe. In the US it’s limited to four counties, in Montana, Minnesota, and Michigan. It’s not quite as widespread in Iceland as the bistort is, but is still pretty common. Only one member of the family Tofieldia is known to have grown in Maryland, but sadly it’s been extirpated.

By the way the leaves are not visible in this picture, which is a shame, but this was one of several plants I saw by mistake while photographing something else. If I’d realized what I’d seen… oh well.

And Then There Was THIS Weird Plant

desert trumpet
aka Indian pipeweed
Eriogonum inflatum

Can you believe I’m still not done with the Death Valley report?

Every once in awhile a plant interests me for some reason other than the flowers.  I love the finely-cut foliage of Thalictrum species, for instance, or the growth habit of Sedum ternatum.


Though the minuscule flowers are lovely, the main attraction of this strange plant is the swollen stems below the nodes. For years people believed that the swelling had something to do with the life cycles of wasps and gall insects, but this notion was proven false by the University of Maryland’s Dr. James L. Reveal, who showed that these nodes are actually carbon dioxide tanks, so to speak. I haven’t been able to find out why a plant would need to store carbon dioxide, and annoyingly can’t find the papers in which Dr. Reveal published this information.


The genus name is from the Greek words for wool (erio) and knee (gono), though this particular species does not actually have woolly knees. It’s a perennial that can grow up to 2′ tall, and is a very common plant in the deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.



The unswollen parts of the stems are slender, making this a difficult plant to photograph.