ROADWEEDS OF THE UPPER PENINSULA
Purple or Blue Flowers
An alien (or exotic species) Can be easily seen while driving More information
Name: Purple Loosestrife
Latin Name: Lythrum salicaria
This is one of the bad guys of the invasive world. Although, the flower spike is really quite pretty. Fireweed is commonly mistaken for purple loosestrife. Purple loosestrife has not reached everywhere in the U.P. So, if you see it . . . remove it! It's a perennial.
Fireweed tends to be more pink than purple loosestrife and the flowers are not as tightly clustered in a spike. Also, fireweed grows on more upland sites where loosestrife likes the wetland sites.
There are about 66 species of aster with numerous hybrids and many of them are similar-looking! Some flowers can be reddish or white. Flowers are usually several on a branched stem. Leaf shapes and plant heights vary.
This is another nasty invasive exotic from Europe. The genus has many similar species. Knapweed can be easily confused with wild bergamot. Spotted knapweed arrived in Michigan in the early 1900s and is usually found on dry sites. Another perennial that is worthy of removal on sight.
Flowers are similar to knapweeds and (maybe) thistles, but lack the deep "bowl" from which the flower grows out of. The leaves are opposite each other on the stems. The plant part is greener looking, softer, and lacks the tough feel of knapweed or the prickles of thistles.
The tall form of thistles are familiar to most people. In the U.P., there are about five species and we are more likely notice the giant bull, Canada, and European swamp thistle before some of the smaller species. The seed heads contain clusters of wind-borne seeds, easily spreading thistle into new areas. The prickles are usually very dense, sharp, and long. European swamp thistle can reach heights of six feet!
Most people will recognize milkweed by their large pods that release wind-borne seeds and their characteristically sticky, white sap. Milkweeds are common in old fields and disturbed places, so we commonly see them growing where fields and right-of-ways come right up the roads.
Alfalfa has been widely cultivated for livestock forage and has escaped into the wild. There are three species of Medicago, all of them exotic. Alfalfa forms a fairly dense patch of vegetation sprinkled with flower heads of purple blooms. Some petals may be white and there are yellow varieties across much of the state.
Common Name: Self-heal
Self-heal is the only species in its genus and can be found around the world. It is a member of the mint family, although lacks any characteristic minty flavor. The small flowers are clustered into flowerheads that might be an inch or so long. The plant appearance is variable and has a wide range of habitats. The "side-of-the-road" habitat generally produces a short, creeping plant not seen unless you are walking along the side of the road and looking at plants. It's also common in lawns and has learned to keep its head low enough to avoid the lawnmower blades. Self-heal is an aggressive little plant that will spread rapidly.
Common Name: Red Clover
Originally from Europe and widely cultivated, red clover is now widespread across most the eastern United States. It became familiar to most people when they were children. The purple-pink-rarely white flower heads are large, about an inch across. They are sweet to the taste. The smaller-headed white clover is also an extremely common plant, also a native of Europe. There are about ten species of Trifolium in Michigan, many of which are seeded into openings for whitetailed deer (as if they were rare or something!).
Common Name: Bouncing Bet
Although this pretty flower is common throughout the roadsides of the Upper Peninsula, it probably goes unnoticed most of the time. It's also noted for its habit of commonly growing along railroad tracks. It can form beds, one to three feet tall, that appear pinkish white in the sunshine. The single flowers tend to form a loose cluster at the top of the plant. Several leaves grow in whorls about the stem, but usually one pair of leaves are much larger than the others.
Once this tall flower begins to bloom it can't be missed, even traveling at 55 miles per hour. It's about the only blue flower that commonly grows along roads. Blue flowers are rare anywhere, but at 1 to 1-1/2 inches across, these conspicuous baby blue blooms are hard to miss. The green part of the plant is rather coarse and lacks any particularly outstanding feature other than a height of 3-4 feet. The taproots have been used to make tea or flavor coffee.
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This website was constructed by Bill Cook. If you have questions or comments about the information on this page, contact Bill.
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