Here’s a spring flower so teeny you might never know it’s in the yard, but I bet it’s there. If you have a patch of the usual European yard weeds like speedwell and ground ivy, go look for this native one nearby.
It has two common names, but one makes more sense than the other: “baby blue eyes” and “smallflower.” Does this flower look blue to you? I can’t detect any blue and never have, even before I needed trifocals.
But smallflower? Sure. It’s a flower so small I can barely take a photo. So small, I need a LEGO minifig to provide a reference for scale. (If you’ve forgotten the size of a minifig, come on over and play.)
Not that smallflower is the absolute smallest white flower in the yard. Look at chervil (pictured below). Chervil blooms are smaller, but like other members of the carrot family (parsley, Queen Anne’s lace), blooms are grouped in umbels: like parasols made of multiple flowers. In contrast, the smallflower is a single flower. One tiny buttonhole specimen ready for a tiny lapel. I suspect that this feature is what endears itself to me. That, and the fact it is rarely found in East Tennessee, and so was new when I moved to Nashville, where it is common.
The botanical name is Nemophila aphylla. The nemo bears no relation to the Latin for “no one,” and thus no relation to Captain Nemo (or James Mason) or to the annoying fish movie. It’s from nemos: Latin for glade, woods, or meadow, depending on the source consulted. That’s quite a range of habitat there. But whatever nemos really is, the second half of the genus—phila—means it is a lover of it. Nemophila. All descriptions say this plant likes moist and can deal with sun and part-shade, so I’m going with nemos as edge-of-the-woods. Or edge-of-my-yard.
Aphylla means “without leaves,” which someone needs to explain. I see leaves. Fleshy, lobed leaves are what I find first, when winter begins to slide into spring.
Problems with common names, problems with botanical names, but not a problem in the yard.
Unlike thuggish ground ivy and chickweed, this little native behaves itself and will not take over. It is not in my edible or medicinal guides—even the Native American one—nor in my pollinator guides. I’ll have to watch what lands on it to feed.
So what is it good for? I’m certain it occupies a unique ecological niche to which I am not yet privy.
But I do know that if your LEGO minifig needs a corsage or boutonnier, Nemophila aphylla is just the ticket.
To be fair, other species of Nemophila are indisputably blue.
And, it’s in the Waterleaf family, like the showy purple phacelia blooming in Warner Woods right now.
Our (native) Southern chervil is Chaerophyllum tainturieri.