Thursday, June 3, 2010

Morning in the Meadow

I have been riding out often this past week, on the Niagara River Recreation Trail, which runs for 56km along the river on the Canadian side. My favourite spots are quite close to where I live, five to fifteen minutes on the bike.
Last week the huge meadow just west of Fort George, called ‘the Commons’, was covered as far as the eye could see with tall yellow wildflowers. Some of the plants were as much as a meter (3 feet) tall, with graceful grass-like leaves and pretty ‘dandelion style’ flowers, one atop each branching stem.
I went out with my paints early one morning to sketch this attractive plant. I’m glad I chose this day – as I was packing up at about eight thirty a couple of parks employees drove up on an ATV to see what that guy with a bike was doing, sitting in the middle of their field! I showed them my sketch. They explained they were just about to mow the field, which they did that very day. A shame really; they cut it long and don’t take away a hay crop, but they do leave a wide patch uncut towards the woodland edge where the flowers and shrubs may still flourish unhindered. I also took lots of photos there, and when I came home I went to identify the flower. It is actually very common, so you would think that in my eighth decade of life I should know it well. But in my youth I never learned very much about the wonders of nature, and until now have not had the leisure to delve into the subject.
I could not find an exact match to the flower in my wildflower guide, so I went on the web and searched in all directions. Surely, with all the millions of images and sites, it should have been easy. I tried in my search to enter all sorts of qualifying words, but, though it seems in retrospect impossible to miss, I still couldn’t make an identification. As usual, in extremis, the cavalry came to my rescue, in the shape of ‘Buckeye’ and Sigrid, and the “ID Please” group on Flickr.
I learned that what we have here is a species of 'Tragopogon', known as Meadow Salsify, a very close relative of Yellow Goatsbeard, with many other common and local names, the most apt of which is ‘Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon’.

May I digress back to my rides on the bike trail? The day after I made my sketch I was riding by once again, and was surprised to find on the uncut areas of the meadow, not a single flower was open. The flowers were all over, (or so I thought). I was so glad to have made my sketch just in time. In my botanical ignorance, I had not known that this flower opens at early light, but closes again in the middle of the day. I wonder if this is a unique trait amongst the flowers? But thus, of course, the strange name I mentioned.

Getting back to a proper identification. I did want to be absolutely certain as to the sub-species, so that when I wrote this blog I would label accurately and not lead people astray, and there remained still a question – was this species ‘Tragopogon dubius’ the Western (or Yellow) Goatsbeard, or was it ‘T. pratensis’ , the Meadow Salsify? The matter was just settled (I think) this morning, in favour of the latter.

To be truly sure of this interesting plant’s habits, I am revisiting its haunts, morning, noon and night. Quite exhausting really. I think I should go and have my nap now.

What? Oh, yes. You may call me ‘Jack’ if you wish.


  1. I recognized it instantly when I saw your photos. It's such a sunny and happy looking flower. I guess the people going to America, centuries ago, thought the same thing. Now you have a nice weed too ;)

    I really love the painting. Perfect for a nice wild plants book ("Plants of the Commons"?).

  2. Andrew, this is just a perfect post! Informative, beautiful, engaging...thank you!

  3. What a lovely flower portrait and post. I have often visited this blogsite, but have not commented until today. Your image and post make me smile! Have a great day and thank you!

  4. This is a marvellous and informative post :) You are never too old to learn (something I try to remind myself)- and I am glad that you still retain the curiosity of a child about this world and the things that live in it ;)

  5. Nice post and very sweet and delicate watercolour, I really enjoyed it

  6. Love your blog Andrew. I'm no folowing it.
    Have a nice sunday. : )


We'd love to hear from you, your questions, comments, observations! Please feel free to comment, feedback is important to us.