Posts Tagged ‘plants’

I attended the sort of progressive high school that allowed students to create their own classes. I decided to study the practical applications of plants, specifically their uses in food, textiles and medicine.

Basically, I cooked, dyed wool and made diluted poisons. Typical high school stuff.

I learned a lot about my local plants during that semester. What I’m not always great at is identifying new plants. That’s why I downloaded a plant identifier app. I won’t suggest the one I use because it’s just ok, full of tech walls designed to shunt you away from free options and toward a purchase, but I’ve charted a path around those barriers and can get the information I want.

That said, I’ve learned that iOS 15 users* already have a free alternative.

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The feature is called Visual Look Up and once you know it’s there, it’s easy to use. It works for plants but also other subjects like landmarks, art and animals.

Today I learned you can identify plants and flowers using just your iPhone camera

Just open up a photo or screenshot in the Photos app and look for the blue “i” icon underneath. If it has a little sparkly ring around it, then iOS has found something in the photo it can identify using machine learning. Tap the icon, then click “Look Up” and it’ll try and dredge up some useful information.

Is it perfect? Not in my (admittedly limited) experience, but it is surprisingly good. My father-in-law sent me a picture of a mystery flower that had appeared (quite mysteriously!) next to his pond. Despite living in the area for decades he had never seen the plant before. Did I know what it was?

I did, in fact, have a pretty good guess. It looked an awful lot like a native plant Mr Man and I bought when we first moved into the house, the Blue Flag Iris. I ran the image through my app to be sure, and it helpfully appended “Northern” to the name. Points for me, but confirmation is always nice.

After discovering Visual Look Up I tested it on the same photo. It got me to “Iris” but without additional specifics. (To be fair, when I took a quick snapshot of the clearer image below and ran Look Up, it identified the plant as a Blue Flag Iris. Points for it.)

So next time you discover something mysterious that you don’t mind sharing with the tech giant in your pocket, try out this feature.

For a free option covering multiple life and other forms?** Recommended.

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* Those in the US, Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico, for now. Not an iPhone user? I haven’t tried it, but Google Lens has similar functionality and works for both iOS and Android.

** But does it work on aliens?

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Wild Wallflower

A few weeks ago, I discovered a mysterious stranger in my front yard. (Wait, it wasn’t creepy!) I noticed a large plant enthusiastically outpacing the rest of the yard’s late spring residents. It was obviously Something, but what? Rather than give the plant a chance to bully its way to King of the Garden I dug it up, put it in a pot and gave it a home in the back yard. Whether that home would be temporary was to be determined. What the heck was it?

I can now answer that question. (I’m sure many people would know what it is straight off the bat but I did not. Learning, it’s a beautiful thing!)

Meet the (checks the plant ID app, which is probably right?) Treacle or Wormseed Mustard plant. This is Erysimum chieranthoides, also known as a Wallflower. And here I thought that was just a metaphor.

I am Mustard, hear me rawr!

It is weedy in looks and habits, which doesn’t typically bother me that much, but it’s also a wee bit poisonous and very bitter. Most animals avoid feed contaminated by this plant’s seed. Sounds unpleasant. I’m afraid I will have to say thanks but no thanks. 

Also, my helpful app has another poem for us. It’s not actually about this plant but what the heck. Enjoy!

And then along my picket fence

Where staring wallflowers grow–

World-wise Old Age, and Common-sense! –

Black bonnet, nodding slow.

— Henry Lawson

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This could be a different plant altogether. Mustard? Canola? Photo by Mak💛💙 on Unsplash

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Itching for Good

We picked up a bunch of native plants from a local eco organization and added them to the garden over the weekend. To go along with existing pollinator plants like butterfly weed, chives, and Joe Pye Weed, I am now the proud owner of flowers like wild bergamot, yellow tickseed, and black-eyed Susan.

Also approximately one million extremely itchy bug bites, and as anyone who knows me knows, I really hate mosquitoes.


Birds and butterflies and pollinators in general need food and shelter. These plants will live outdoors and I had to get them moved into their new homes; the mosquitoes just took advantage of my helpful nature. (Also my delicious blood.)

So both arms are itchier than I’d like, plus I have a row of awkwardly-placed extra bumps on my spine (particularly fun) and what I’m pretty sure is a spider bite on my wrist, which is now extra red, itchy and swollen.

Still worth it!

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Photos by Evan BuchholzJoshua J. CottenAaron BurdenKarl-Heinz MüllerIlana GrosternGaétan Marceau CaronZdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

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A plant is running a casino in my yard. Also, yesterday was World Bee Day, so let’s talk about the intersection of the two.

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As I’ve mentioned before, lawns are a pain. Right now our lawn is an interesting mix of grass, ground ivy, and wild strawberry, with a few dandelions thrown in for good measure. It actually looks quite pretty, with green grass and purple, white and yellow flowers.  

The ground ivy, or Creeping Charlie, is particularly good at spreading.

We’re moving in, see? And there’s nothing youse guys can do about it.

It’s also good at bringing in the bees. Right now there are several big bumblebees happily flitting from flower to purple flower. Watching them fly, I noticed that they bounce from plant to plant before settling on a flower. Curious, I did a bit of research.

It turns out that Creeping Charlie is playing those bees like a fiddle.

“Creeping Charlie employs a unique strategy to attract some bee visitors, such as sweat bees, bumble bees, and honey bees, that is tied into how the flower produces nectar.  The flowers have a unique strategy for rewarding visitor pollinators, commonly referred to as the “lucky hit” strategy.  Creeping Charlie flowers produce an average of 0.3 microliters of nectar per flower, but the amount of nectar in any one flower varies greatly, ranging from 0.06 to 2.4 microliters. “

— Creeping Charlie: Management and Value to Pollinators | Turfgrass Science

Like the psychology of gambling, such random reward mechanisms keep those bees coming back for more. The good news is that on average, these flowers are worth the bees’ time and energy.

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I’m all for pollinator planting, but before you sign on to the Creeping Charlie train, let me say that it is considered invasive in many places and is most certainly difficult to remove.

“While Creeping Charlie could be a good nectar source for bees, we are not recommending that you let it take over your lawn.”

(It’s a bit late for that, but at least the bees and I can look on the bright side.)

Consider a turf alternative like this Bee blend, or plant clover instead. Bees love it, and they aren’t the only ones.

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Nom nom! Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

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Our days are brighter, the nights are shorter, and Mr. Man’s orange tree is blooming. It smells divine.

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Background: I have a feeder in the yard and we get a lot of visiting birds, along with squirrels, chipmunks, and the odd raccoon. Given all this traffic, plus wind and Nature’s Mysterious Ways, we also have a lot of what real gardeners (not me) call “volunteer” plants. I found what looked like a raspberry sprout and, ever curious, stuck it into an unused planter off to the side.

Mmm, delicious, I thought. Raspberries. Or blackberries. Or whatever. What’s not to like?

And for a while, everything went swimmingly. Despite poor light, irregular watering, and general lack of care, the plant thrived. It made it through last winter unprotected and came back in the spring. Now it’s a bush-sized marvel taking up way more space than intended. Fine, I thought, I’ll trim it back. Let me just take off the last foot or so of these canes. I’ll take my trusty pruners and grab this green bit and pull the end over and…


Overlord, with roots.


It turns out that there is a reason why real gardeners (still not me) do not generally welcome volunteer raspberry (or whatever) sprouts in their gardens. I knew that they were hard to kill, and that they spread via seeds. What I did not know is that these plants were lulling me into a false sense of security so that they could spread by slo-mo walking from spot to spot, rooting their cane *tips* whenever they could. Drawing their emerald chains ever tighter around me.

I had to yank hard on the cane, full weight behind the effort, leather gloves punctured by thorns and all, before I could uproot this monster. And it had friends!


Overlord, with traitorous cat. Figures.

Here’s a closeup shot of the leaves; perhaps one of you out there knows the exact subspecies of plant. All I know is that if I let this go on much longer, we’ll all be calling it “Master.”

So the plant/future overlord has to go. Just as soon as I get over the cold I picked up last weekend. Time for some raspberry herbal tea, I think:)

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