Monday, August 23, 2010

when is a mallow not a mallow?


Answer: when it is a raspberry bush. I promised yesterday that I’d post a picture of an Actual Mallow today.

P1010371  Here you go. Musk Mallow (Malva moschata). (Actually, a cousin to the mallow that I thought the raspberry bush was.) I feel much better now, and I assume you do, too.

The trip to the mailbox also netted us what I’m thinking is Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia)

P1010378   P1010376

How do I know this stuff? Am I a sooper-genius? No. I repeat, no. It’s called “a field guide”, followed by “no really, look it up in a book.”

Do I think that knowing the name of something makes me an expert on that thing? Abso-frickin’-lutely not. In many ways, a name is just a bunch of syllables. If you had but five minutes to spend on a flower, by all means, spend it in rapturous awe looking deep into it, marveling at the intricacies of its innards, wondering at how long that flower will take to open, speculating as to how it got pollinated, and who will eat its seeds. Don’t waste it in a book.

But! When you commit to finding out its name…well, you open up your own understanding to all the research and knowledge that has gone on before you into the life of that species. The name is a magic key.

Let’s take our buddy, the mallow. Shortly after I first (mis-)identified the mallow growing up in the driveway, I happened to read “Outlander”, a time-travel fiction novel by Diana Galbadon, in which the WWII-era heroine, in an early-morning walk to become better acquainted with wildflowers, suddenly finds herself transported to 18th century Scotland. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) One of the flowers she’s constantly coming across? Mallow! Hah!  Or how about this: I was just in southern California, visiting my brother and his wife and running in the San Diego half-marathon, and guess what’s growing in a huge heap in their back yard? Mallow! Double Hah!

When you’ve gotten to know a particular species – and more than that, a particular instance of a species – well, it becomes your buddy.

Like this new guy, the seedbox pictured above. Because I looked it up…I know to pay particular attention to it as the seeds develop…apparently they’re all kinds of crazy looking. Stay tuned!

Or my old friend, whom I visit on every trip to the mailbox…


White baneberry in front of neighbor’s house. August 8.


Same guy, today, so two weeks later. See how the stalks are getting redder?

Now, if I were really cool, I’d know about what’s edible out there, and the medicinal uses to which all these guys can be put, etc. etc.. I’ll get there, I’ll get there…

Maybe there’s an invisible space alien ship up in orbit, and one of the aliens has a huge telescope trained on me, and I’m being blogged about intergalactically. “Human #X235(b)’s basic awareness of her surroundings has improved by .00002% over the past lunar cycle…”


  1. what I’m thinking is Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia)

    Think again it's... Oenothera biennis

  2. Yes, I discovered that myself at some point later! Sometimes I actually go correct posts after-the-fact - perhaps I didn't get to this one. Thanks! Come back any time!