03 September 2010

Gotta Love A Good Parking Lot Weed

There are not many places that I can go where I can't find a way to quench my botanical thirst. Let me take that back... I don't think there is anywhere I can go that I can't find something green of interest. Just ask Lindsay... we could be walking through downtown Chicago, and you will find me scouring the sidewalk cracks and decorative planters for naturally occurring weeds of interest. You never know what you might find.

Take, for example, the parking lot at the Best Western Bay Walk Inn in Superior, Wisconsin. The photograph above, taken in this parking lot, shows most of our sampling crew for the job we did in Superior a couple of weeks ago, learning about Phragmites australis ssp. americanus from Tony Troche. If you click on the link to the hotel above, you will see another shot of this parking lot. Seems like a pretty unassuming place, on all accounts. However, if you were at the location from which the photograph on Best Western's web page was captured during the summer, you would see this growing along the edge of the parking lot...

This is Alkali Buttercup (Ranunculus cymbalaria), also known as Seaside Crowfoot. "So what?"... you say? Although widespread throughout western North America and considered native in parts of Eurasia and South America, Alkali Buttercup is a species of concern in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. That's right, I said Wisconsin, where it is listed as Threatened.

In Wisconsin, Alkali Buttercup is known from wet areas along Lake Michigan, as well as from salted roadsides and parking lots in and near Superior (on the other side of the state). It spreads by stolons, often forming large colonies where it occurs, as is the case in the Best Western parking lot.

Alkali Buttercup was used in a variety of ways by Native American tribes, including as a ceremonial medicine and as a way to induce vomiting.

This is just another example of a tiny-flowered weed that goes completely unnoticed to 99% of the people that walk by it, and in this case, it is a state-listed plant. I can't imagine how many people have been in that parking lot without even the slightest idea that they were in the presence of a plant considered rare in the state. Sure, most don't care, but I'd be willing to bet there are even botanists, ecologists, and native plant enthusiasts who have walked right past this population in a hurried effort to get from their vehicle to their room. That's why my assessment of a field botanist's skills has nothing to do with their ability to identify the showy, charismatic macroflora, but instead has everything to do with their familiarity with the weeds.

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