Eloise Butler images

The attractiveness of vegetables and common weeds, April 1931.

by Eloise Butler, from Annals of the Wild Life Reserve

Note: Since Eloise Butler's time, the scientific names of plants and the classification of plant families has undergone extensive revision. In brackets within the text, have been added when necessary, the revised scientific name for the references she used in her article. Nomenclature is based on the latest published information from Flora of North America, USDA and the Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota. Other information in brackets may add clarification to what she is saying.


My household have been enjoying the last two weeks a peculiarly attractive plant: A cabbage was discovered by the cook that had developed a stalk over six inches long, bearing at the top a flat bunch of tiny flower buds. The outer leaves of the head were thin, papery and pale gray. The leaves along the stalk varied from silvery white to shades of delicate pale green. The cabbage was placed in a Japanese porcelain bowl that just fitted it and had the same shades of gray and green. No water was added. The stalk is now nearly two feet tall and the flat-topped bud-cluster has burgeoned into a a spreading panicle of pale yellow drooping flower bells. The cabbage in every state has been a dream of beauty and the joy of all beholders. It might even get a blue ribbon in the great horticultural exhibit now displayed in Boston.

My pupils were always delighted with a living hanging basket that I used to prepare for them. I selected a large carrot, cut off a due amount of the narrowed tip and hollowed our a portion of the center for a cavity to hold water, and made holes just below the rim for the insertion of suspension wires. The carrot was hung in a window and in a short time the incised, feathery leaves grew up reverently, revealing through them the rich orange yellow of the carrot.

Canadian Horseweed
Above: Canadian Horseweed (Canada Fleabane), Erigeron canadense. Photo ©G D Bebeau

I cannot help admiring the pariahs of my garden, although competition is so fierce I must needs destroy them. If rare and difficult to cultivate, one would travel miles to see the golden heads of dandelion or the gossamer balls of down when in seed. If it were not for the pernicious pollen, I would spare some ragweed on account of the beauty of its finely dissected foliage; and I like the massed effect of burdock, but cannot endure the matted, clinging burs. One of my most pleasing photos is that of the common horseweed, or Canada fleabane, Erigeron canadense - - tall, graceful and fluffy in tropical luxuriance, which must be ruthlessly destroyed on account of its aggressive habit. Three stalwarts often attract the eye - - dock, the bane of gardeners, with its curled leaves (the swamp Rumex Britannica has full sway with me); hemp, with its palm-like leaves, and mullein clothed in gray plush with large basal rosettes and heavy spikes of pale yellow. Nor can I resist the charms of sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella, when it carpets the ground with rich colors, bearing dainty spikes of red and green. I often take up a mat to decorate the table. And I do not wonder that the Scotch have chosen the thistle for their national emblem, although, like the cactus, it says, “keep your distance!” The curly, prickly leaves and the softly bright flower heads are to me altogether lovely. I make room for them all except Canada thistle which is a greater pest than quack grass when it once gains a foothold. I suppose it is unlawful to harbor the thieving dodder with its yellow stems looping, twisting and coiling about its victims and drinking their life-sap. Have you ever seen the species glomerata in blossom, en-wreathing its host with a dense mass of tiny white blossoms? But I call “halt” when it attacks my orchids.

I must add, however, that I haven’t any sentiment to waste on sand burs, agrimony, or beggar’s ticks with their beguiling flowers like small forget-me-nots; or pitch forks, Bidens, though they flaunt in their season a glorious yellow. Life is too short to spend it a-picking off stick-tights from one’s clothing.