Tracking American Lopseed

Story & Photos by Karen Smith

Most of my walking is done on our home acreage where the closest thing to a trail is one used by the goats or the deer. Many of the plants I discover, I do so by accident. That makes finding them a second time a challenge.

The American lopseed was such a challenge. First, I had to notice it. The flowers are small and stick out from a slender stem above a mop of nondescript leaves.

These flowers had a few things going for them. First was their colors of purple and white. Second was my habit of noticing new leaf shapes, plant shapes and bits of color. So many flowers are small.

This definitely was a plant I hadn’t noticed before. I don’t often walk along this part of the hill. Instead, I angle up the hill before arriving at this area. This particular day I was collecting some unneeded fence posts. This is an excuse to go out wildflower hunting.

So, I rely on landmarks. Ozark forests look a lot alike. One oak bears a lot of resemblance to all the other oaks. For the American lopseed I was lucky, sort of. It was at the base of a tree just up from a young honey locust in the pasture.

There were two honey locusts about the same size in about the same location. I had to check around a dozen or more trees before finding my target again. In doing so I found American lopseed likes edges of open woods near where water flows after a rainstorm. At least this one did.

The next challenge is to find it again this year. The bigger challenge is finding more of these plants, now that I know what they look like.

Botanical keys and I have a wary regard for each other. They sit in their books smug with their private vocabulary much of which I am unfamiliar with. Even when I know what the plant I am keying out is, I can end up somewhere else entirely. An unknown plant is a daunting challenge.

I try to aid myself with this identification challenge by taking numerous pictures of a new plant. These include the plant, the leaves, the flowers and the seed pods. This means I have to find the plant more than once, preferably without spending several hours searching.

The easy way would be to mark the plant. I did that with Wherry’s pink and still couldn’t find the plant, but that’s another tale. And I have to have a flag or tape with me and rarely do.