Twigs and Branches

A web of present and past events


These short articles are written to highlight connections of the plants, history and lore of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden with different time frames or outside connections. A web of intersections.


October 17, 2021: Virginia Creeper or Grape Woodbine - Can you tell the difference?:

We tend to notice this vine in the Fall more than any other time of the year when those reddish 5-parted leaves are climbing a tree or a fence. In other seasons the green leaves blend in with so much other green. We all tend to call this plant Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), although it is rare in the wild in Minnesota, whereas the look-a-like Grape Woodbine (Parthenocissus vitacea) is found in all but five of our 87 counties.

Grape woodbine
Creeper disk pads
The adhesive disk pads of Virginia Creeper. Photo G D Bebeau.

There are two i.d. keys that separate the two species. The first key is the tendril. Both can climb by twining branching tendrils but Virginia Creeper's tendrils form at the tip a knob which flattens and becomes a mucilaginous disk that adheres to the surface it touches. Woodbine does not have the disks. The other key is in the flower panicle - the inflorescence. Creeper has a divergently branched cluster, usually longer than wide, that has a distinct central axis. This means it can continue to extend as much as the vigor of the plant allows. Woodbine has what is called a dichotomous cluster, that is, branched into two somewhat equal forks, sometimes 3, without a distinct central axis and usually wider than long, and the two or three branches are as far as it can grow. Otherwise the flowers themselves are quite similar as are the fruits, although Woodbine's flowers and fruits are somewhat larger. More details about both species are found on our information page.


Woodbine inflorescence
The dichotomous inflorescene of Woodbine with two branches and no central axis. Photo G D Bebeau,
Virginia Creeper inflorescence
The divergent inflorescence of Virginia Creeper with a central axis. Photo Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

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October 4, 2021: The Autumn Grapplers:

Many are the seeds that get transported near and far by humans and animals. The common method is to simply “attach,” and not fall all, hence the common name of “stick tights.” Here are five examples that represent a fair example of the how they do it.

Thoreau explained it this way:
“There is a Patent Office at the seat of government of the universe, whose managers are as much interested in the dispersion of seeds as any body at Washington can be, and their operations are infinitely more extensive and regular."
And about the beggar ticks: “If in October you have occasion to pass through or along some half-dried pool, these seeds will often adhere to your clothes in surprising numbers. It is as if you had unconsciously made your way through the ranks of some countless but invisible lilliputian army, which in their anger had discharged all their arrows and darts at you, though none of them reached higher than your legs.”

sticktight group one sticktight group two

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September 5, 2021: Surviving the drought:

Pennsylvania sedge in flower
Pennsylvania sedge in flower.

The dry summer was a good test of the survivability of plants that do not receive supplemental watering. One of the ground covers that has done well in my area and garden is Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pennsylvanica). It has remained green throughout the summer. This is a sedge that prefers well-drained upland sites with full to partial sun, particularly in the open forest understory and especially near oaks - hence one of the alternate common names - Common Oak Sedge. It tolerates full shade.

A ground cover’s duty is to cover the ground and this sedge does it by its spreading underground stolons; reseeding is uncommon. White tail deer and rabbits do not much browse it so it grows unburdened by natural lawn mowers. It is one of the first sedges to flower in the spring, before the leaves are unfurling on the oaks. It forms clumps with cascading leaves, the clump usually not over eight inches high.

It transplants readily and will fill in an area within a year or two; therefore beware! It spreads so you may need to control it. The Forest Service considers it a potential invasive in the northern Minnesota forests as climate change raises temperatures and moves more of our deciduous trees into what is now a mostly conifer zone.

Pennsylvania sedge plants

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August 22, 2021: Minnesota connections to naturalist Joseph Banks.
Those who publish the description of a plant, its genus and species, are memorialized as the author of the plant classification by having their name appended to the Latin name. Many have remarkable stories and backgrounds and few more interesting then Englishman Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the foremost English naturalist and botanist of the time. He was leader of the of the scientific group on James Cook’s first voyage around the world on the Endeavour (1768-1771). He introduced eucalyptus and acacia to the western world and became president of the Royal Society in 1778.

Five species are found in Minnesota that still bear his name in the classification and four of the five were once in the Butler Wildflower Garden - Roundleaf Orchid, Bluntleaved Orchid, a variety of Small White Violet and a variety of Roundleaf violet. The other, Arrowleaf Sweet Coltsfoot is prevalent in Minnesota but never entered the Garden.

One other species in our state bears his name, but as an honorary - Jack Pine, Pinus banksiana.

He was to have had the same position on Cook’s 2nd voyage in 1772-1775 but he was so demanding as to size of staff, baggage and accommodations on board that Cook refused to take him.

Plant details:
Roundleaf Orchid, Amerorchis rotundifolia, first in the Garden in 1912 (photo)
Bluntleaved Orchid, Platanthera obtusata, first in the Garden in 1918 (photo)
Small White Violet, Viola macloskey sub. palllens, indigenous
Roundleaf violet, Viola rotundiflora var. pallens, first in the Garden in 1908
Arrowleaf Sweet Coltsfoot, Petasities frigidus var. sagittaus.

None of the four Garden plants are extant but eh Sweet White Violet is still found in the Quaking Bog. Jack Pine is found just outside the Garden fence.

Below: Joseph Banks, painted by Benjamin West, 1773

Joseph Banks

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August 13, 2021: Cattail Invasion
We have three species of cattail in our marshes in Minnesota, one native and the other two species are imports which have been running amok for years now.

Our native common cattail, Typha latifolia, is found in almost all Minnesota counties and all across North America. The Narrow-leaved cattail, Typha angustifolia, is much more aggressive and has become quite an invasive pest in the mid-continent area where it out-competes T. latifolia, especially if an area has been disturbed. In many marshes around the Mpls/St. Paul metro area either T. angustifolia is predominant or, the new guy, a hybrid between the two species, known as Typha x glauca (T. angustifolia x latifolia) is predominant. In fact the U of M Herbarium states that in the 20 counties where the hybrid has been reported, it is more widespread and dominates the other two species. It dominates to such an extent that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) states that habitat for waterfowl is being destroyed with a lot of wetlands becoming biological deserts.

You need a good hand lens to distinguish the hybrid but here are the tips for separating the other two. The common has a fatter stalk, wider but thiner leaf and no gap between the male and female flowers in the flowering stem, whereas the narrow-leaved has a thinner stalk, narrower but thicker leaf and a gap between male and female flowers. Details in the photos. More details on our cattail plant page.

Common Cattail
Common Cattail (Typha latifolia) with no gap between male and female florets.
Narrow-leaved  cattail
Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia) with the gap between male and female florets.
comparison chart of narrow-leaved and common cattail.

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Mullein Plant

July 23, 2021: Eloise and Monet
Both Eloise Butler and Claude Monet were contemporaries; both wanted a plant garden and a water garden; both achieved what they wanted and both accommodated what many would call a weed. In 1911 Eloise Butler wrote “I sometimes think, if I have any mission in this world, it is to teach the decorative value of common weeds. A weed is simply a plant out of place.”

One example out of many was the use of Common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, now in full bloom in our area. It is an indigenous inhabitant of our wild flower garden and Monet used it at Giverny, to underplant the clematis arches bringing it in to make use of the tall stalks and color, then he left them to reseed where they fell. Other shared common plants were Water Smartweed, Virginia Creeper, Dame’s Rocket and Yellow Flag. Like Eloise he preferred a more wild look when he lived there. For more of this story use this link.


Below: The photo shows Monet at Giverny in 1924, photo courtesy Sygma, London

Claud Monet at Giverny

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Fireweed plant

July 5, 2021: It would not grow for her!
Fireweed, or Great Willow Herb (Chamerion angustifolium), was an elusive plant for Eloise Butler - she told her friend Gertrude Cram that nothing would ever induce it to grow for her. She didn’t know where to find it locally so she bought some from Massachusetts in 1907 but the wrong plant was sent. On her return to Minneapolis from the east coast in August 1908, her train broke down near Mackay Ontario and while waiting for repairs she spotted lots of it out the train car window and promptly filled a suitcase with it. She later found a source beyond White Bear Lake.

Fireweed is an international plant, found in Europe and North America. It was used for tea in England and Russia, for salads in many places, and for medicinal purposes by the Minnesota Ojibwa.

The origin of the name has to do with the mistaken belief that it primarily colonized recently burnt-over sites, but some other plants do likewise and they also picked up that common name. In reality any recent bare spot is game for this plant. Mrs. Grieve (A Modern Herbal, 1931) notes that the plant would spring up in a town, self-sown, on waste ground recently cleared of centuries old buildings. She specifically mentions areas in London around Aldwych and Westminster where old buildings were torn down and the ground remained in a wasted state for some time, though no one could explain where the seeds came from.

Paleo-archaeologist Mary Leakey wrote that upon returning to London from Kenya after the Blitz and the War [1946] there were unfilled craters and uncleared rubble everywhere. "Later in the year we saw some of the devastated areas in the city become pink with flowering spikes of willow-herb, which had colonized the open spaces and was by now well established and thriving there.”

Fireweed flowers

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Selections published January - June, 2021.

Selections published in 2020