Monday, July 12, 2010

The Grey-headed Coneflower

After a few days away visiting old friends I got back on the bike yesterday for my usual ride – to my usual destination.

At the north end of Brown’s Point Park the trail branches. From a somewhat inconspicuous entry the alternate path wanders through deep, cool woods before emerging to rejoin the main track half a mile further along, at the southern end of the park. The trail forks just immediately before the little stream which shelters a variety of wildflowers along its banks. As I approached the turnoff, flashes of gold caught my eye from along the lower route so I paused, then turned left to check it out, thinking it was probably another clump of Oxeye. But as I drew up to this group of plants lining the wayside ditch I could see right away that this was something different: neither flowers nor leaves resembled the False Sunflower which had made itself at home on the other side of the streamlet.

Some of the plants were quite seven feet high. On the fully opened flowers brilliant yellow rays drooped right down below the prominent pale green crowns. The stems were long, with well-spaced alternate leaves. The larger leaves lower on the plant were deeply divided and delicately toothed.

I extracted ‘Newcomb’ from my saddlebag and soon discovered the identity of this commanding species. It is the Grey-headed Coneflower, Ratibida pinnata. A most beautiful and interesting wildflower, well worth sketching.

So early this morning I retraced my route, armed with just my smallest paintbox and a bottle of water. Generally, when heading out for a ride, I don’t prepare in a particularly methodical way. By default I take my little camera and usually my recently acquired (now dearly loved) wildflower field guide. I may carry a notebook and pencil or a small sketchbook. I only take watercolours when I have already identified what I want to paint. This habit has a healthy side effect: by forcing me to retrace my route soon so as to take a sketch of a newly discovered flower before it is over, I get twice the exercise!

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