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ORRIN MORRIS: Sun-loving stiff verbena thrives in hot, dry conditions

STIFF VERBENA Verbena rigida

STIFF VERBENA Verbena rigida

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, wedding anniversary, or July Fourth 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 vervain stems are like four thin stems molded together to form the rigid upright.

The plant I initially 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. Even the leaves are 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, when there is extreme heat and lack of rain causing competing weeds to become less aggressive, 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. You know, the saying, “slow down and smell the roses” applies to more than one thing, especially tiny things.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.