Winter Solstice flowers

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henbit

Folks get sad with the short days and cold weather, so I need to advertise what might be a brief antidote.
Flowers.
In the grass.
In late December.
Henbit’s tiny purple trumpets, chickweed’s white stars, and ivy-leaf speedwell’s bright blue eyes are all twinkling from the grass right now in Nashville.
True, you have to bend down and look for them on purpose–they are small—but they are a forshpice of spring during darkest winter.

I noticed them this year because I’ve been tracking the growth of winter annuals in the lawn: yard weeds that start themselves in fall, stretch new leaves that may or may not look like what they mature into later, overwinter under our radar (they stay low), and then really come alive in spring.

These blooms are here and there throughout our Nashville neighborhood, especially in hellstrips. The latter are good places to see “old” lawn diversity no one’s tried to sod or seed.

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henbit and chickweed abloom at the base of a Hackberry

One lawn on my street had a full 20 feet of henbit blooming along the sidewalk, and I fairly rejoiced seeing it on my walks, thankful that insects on warm days had something to eat (which then gave Robins and bluebirds something to eat). But when I walked past it last night, the entire yard had been mown. The smell of cut grass was still hanging the air.

Who hires a lawn crew this late in the year?
What was so objectionable about a few inches of fluffy flowers in the grass?
Neighbors here are too, too tidy.
Tidiness does not feed anyone.

My three plants are not native to the U.S., but they are here to stay and they are functional, and should not be “weeded” from our lawns.

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common chickweed

• Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is in the mint family (feel the square stems characteristic of mints, and look for the likewise characteristic tubular flower faces).

• Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is delicious, by the way, like a salad of those fancy lettuces too expensive to buy at Whole Foods: the kind so smooth-bright-green they look almost fake. I usually eat chickweed straight out of the yard rather than wash it for a salad, but it is reportedly chock full o’nutrients.

• Ivy-leaved speedwell (Veronica hederifolia). There’s an interesting backstory why the Veronica genus is named thus. If I am ever asked to plan a church garden, I would incorporate a range of veronica species. (Wiktionary says: “Influenced by the Church Latin phrase vera icon (“true image”) associated with the legend of the veil of Saint Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary and left an imprint.”)
Some people say “speedwell” refers to how fast the flowers shut, and the truth is, you do need to look for these when the sun is bright and the blue eye is open.

ivy-leaved speedwell

 

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