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ORRIN MORRIS: Closely examine stiff verbena to see tiny lavender blooms

Stiff verbena

Stiff verbena

One day late in Jesus’ ministry, He was in the Temple near the offering box. A poor widow came up to it and tossed in two small coins.

Jesus turned to His disciples and said that her meager offering was of more value than that given by all those who gave out of their abundance. He noted that she had given “all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44).

Little things mean a lot when given in love and devotion. I always appreciated the homemade Father’s Day presents from my boys when they were little, no matter how small and simple.

STIFF VERBENA

Verbena rigida

The wildflower for today has a very tiny bloom that has to be examined closely to be appreciated; however, it is a welcome sight amid the heat and dryness of the dog days of summer.

Stiff verbena starts growing in March but the blooms do not appear until June and continue into October. The five petaled lavender bloom is very small, measuring about 1/8 inch.

The illustration shows a strange hairy structure at the end of each branch. Blooms occur at the uppermost part of the branch. After the bloom is fertilized, seeds form, protected by course, clasping bracts. These structures get longer as the weeks pass and new blooms appear.

The plants have several unusual features. First, it is a sun-loving plant that thrives in dry conditions. If you drive up a tree-shaded lane, you will not find this plant. It favors roadsides, unattended fields and waste places exposed to the sun.

A second unusual feature is the shape of the stems. They are very stiff, square and covered with stiff hairs. Most weeds have round stems, but stiff verbena stems are like four thin stems molded together to form the rigid upright. The plant I examined had seven stems covered with clasping leaves. A central root reached deep into the soil to find a supply of moisture.

The leaves are opposites, 1 1/2-inches long, and lance-shaped. The leaves are also covered with stiff hairs.

The top 10 to 14 inches of this plant are branched. Several that I have seen have a fascinating geometrical configuration as illustrated.

It is rare to see this plant in isolation because its abundance of seeds causes the clusters to spread into colonies the following year. Furthermore, the extreme heat and lack of rain last year has caused competing weeds to become less aggressive and that makes the stiff verbena even more abundant.

Stiff verbena, also called tuberous vervain, is not a particularly pretty weed. The mixture of green leaves, brownish-green bracts and tiny lavender blooms creates a grayish appearance as one speeds by; however, to appreciate its beauty requires close examination.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.