Little white flowers

  • Only under powerful magnification do the tiny flowers of the marsh bedstraw show their true beauty. The flower petals appear to be covered with tiny jewels. For the Recorder/Bill Danielson—

  • The deep V-shaped notch at the bottom of this lesser stitchwort flower is actually the gap between the two halves of the same petal. For the Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • Staff illustration/Andy Castillo

Published: 7/1/2019 6:00:13 AM

I’ve been teaching for 16 years and I think I’ve only just now figured out how to maximize my summer vacation. The first thing I have to do is spend a week sleeping. My mind is usually so cluttered with end-of-year flotsam and jetsam that relaxation is virtually impossible. I can rest, but until my mind quiets down I can’t truly relax.

It’s only after this solid week of decompression that I feel the tension start to dissipate.  

The second week is when my mind starts to come out of hiding and this is enhanced when all extraneous distractions are minimized. Ignore the Women’s World Cup (that’s not always easy) and go outside. This is what my “thinking chair” is for; whenever I start my morning down at the edge of the meadow I seem to have a great day.

So, listening to my own good advice, I woke up early (ish) on one recent day, grabbed a travel mug full of coffee and set off down the hill with my camera around my neck. The weather has continued to favor us with plentiful rain and my wet meadow was definitely that, but I managed to get myself to my destination without getting mired in the mud. I eased back into the chair, took a long sip of coffee and sighed a sigh of great contentment.

There are usually all sorts of birds down in this area, but on this particular day, they appeared to be active but quiet.  I was eventually scolded by a common yellowthroat and glared at by a song sparrow, but the other birds were busy with other things and I didn’t feel like disturbing them with any “pishing.”  An hour went by and without any distractions, I started to get bored. 

This was my goal and it paid off.

A quiet mind is a creative mind and when I tired of searching for birds, I started looking around me to see what else I might see. What caught my eye were the ridiculously tiny flowers of a plant that I wasn’t familiar with. Luckily, I had remembered to bring my macro lens (for extreme close-ups). I swapped lenses on my camera and started taking pictures.  

The flowers were extremely small and by that I mean that they were less than a ¼-inch wide.  I also discovered that the plant’s stems were so slender and flimsy that I can describe them as “filamentous.”  The extremely small size of the flowers made closeup photography difficult, but I eventually got a good shot of the beautiful little blossoms.  

It wasn’t until I got back to the house and searched my trusty old copy of “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” that I discovered I had found a Marsh Bedstraw (Galium palustre) plant. The status of this plant is somewhat confusing, but the flowers are beautiful.

The second flower to catch my eye was another small white flower, but this one wasn’t as minuscule as the other. I picked a single blossom, brought it close and discovered that each of the five white petals was so deeply divided that they appeared to be separate.  This I knew to be a characteristic of a family of flowers called “chickweeds,” but, again, this wasn’t a flower I was familiar with.

I took photo after photo, trying to capture details and good lighting levels.  Eventually, I had a few good images and when I searched through the nature book, I found the perfect description.  A low, weedy, insignificant plant of fields and meadows, this was the Lesser Stitchwort (Stellarium graminea).  Confirmation of my identification proved an important point because I found that the plant is also known as grass-like starwort.  My copy of “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” has a 1977 copyright, so I guess things have changed a bit in the world of botany.  

Time to update my library.

I know I say this all the time, but I’m not going to stop now.  If you have a day with nothing planned, then don’t plan anything. Grab yourself a portable chair, plunk it down somewhere (forest, field, or yard) and let yourself get bored.  Eventually, you’ll start looking around for something interesting and that’s exactly when you’ll find it.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 22 years.  He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics.  Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.


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