The longer I garden in this particular patch of ground, the more I realize how little I know about it.
It’s been four years, and I still constantly discover things that I’ve either never seen or vaguely recall but never managed to ID.
For example, these came up in a flower pot this week.
There are at least a dozen fungi that come up in the yard that I have never figured out. I can ID one or two—earth stars, witch’s butter, dog vomit slime mold—but most of them come and go without ever having a Latin name nailed onto their slimy little heads. There’s the low brown buttony thing and the low brown saucer-shaped thing and the little brown caps and the little whiteish caps and the things that look like puffballs but probably aren’t and those other things that show up in the mulch.
From fungus, we go to flowers. I live on the edge of a pine forest, namely the loblolly pines that grow up in the Piedmont on abandoned pastureland. As the ground was intensely disturbed a little over a decade ago by the developer building the house—and given that this is the Southeast, where plants grow furiously—we have native plants and non-native plants and invasives and thugs and rarities. Everything starts in the ditches and the woods and creeps inward toward the garden, whereupon I find it and begin wracking my brain and the internet, trying to figure out what it is and whether I should break out the Champagne Of Celebration or the Whiskey Of Generalized Despair.*
I have been known to go through lists of North Carolina wildflowers, page after page, just trying to spot things that have shown up in the yard. (Sometimes this works quite well! It turns out that the one little thing is partridge pea, a native annual legume! Who knew?) Sometimes I just sit at Google trying every possible way to type “purple wildflower in North Carolina.” (or occasionally “Purple weed in North Carolina.”) This is pretty hit-or-miss and seems to hinge on somebody else having noticed the same plant and documented it, and if wildlife gardening has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a whole world going on under our feet that is sparsely documented at best.
I occasionally wonder if it would just be quicker to rent a botanist for a day and have them go over the property with a fine-toothed comb.
Sometimes I get lucky…
…and sometimes I get unlucky.
I was delighted to find that my Camphor Pluchea, aka Ploughman’s Wort, had reseeded in various spots in the yard. (Ask me again in a few years, and I may be less delighted.) In some spots I pull it out, but in a few others, like the proto-wetland I’m just as happy to have it there.
I was less delighted to discover that in said proto-wetland, which is largely overrun with Japanese stiltgrass, is now also hosting “beefsteak plant,” an Asiatic weed that resembles basil. Apparently it’s edible. Mind you, so’s kudzu.
I have no idea how to feel about the Virginia buttonweed, which is a really thuggish native that would probably be an awesome groundcover if it was over THERE instead of right HERE, where it’s trying to eat the variegated Meehania and keeps making threatening gestures at the sundrops. (Honestly, a plant that can scare any member of the Evening Primrose clan into submission is a force to be reckoned with.) I am tempted to relocate clumps of it in hopes it will eat the stiltgrass.
And then, of course, there’s the animal kingdom. This is where I completely give up. I can just about keep track of the vertebrates in the yard—(“That, right there, is a box turtle. Yup. Shell and everything.”)—but there are more bees and flies and teeny little thingies and big huge honkin’ thingies and more fuzzy/spiny caterpillars than you can shake a stick at. And the butterflies! I track down a Cloudless Sulphur and just as I’m feeling good about myself, a flight of drab gray skippers covers the yard. (No idea. Might be Wild Indigo Duskywings. Might be something else. I was gratified to learn that there’s a type of skipper called the Confused Duskywing. Truth in advertising.)
Don’t even talk to me about hairstreaks.
But despite my frequent frustrations, trying to ID ALL THE THINGS—white spot? Cream spot? Ventral spot? Paired or verticillate leaves? Black vulture or extremely gothic chicken?—is part of what makes wildlife gardening here so delightful. Four years, and I’ve barely gotten started. And every time I DO figure out a plant, a little bit more of the landscape falls into place, and I can say, with casual authority, “Oh, yes, the partridge pea. Lovely little plant. It’s native, you know,” and except for the box turtles wondering why I’m talking to myself, all is right with the world.
*Not to be confused with the Tequila Of Madness or the Very Good Scotch Of The Kids Finally Moving Out.
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