Shawnee News-Star Garden April 4 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg There was not a lot of green in Piedmont several weeks ago, besides the ubiquitous redcedars that had popped up along fences and in some pastures.   What stood out embedded within the dead grass lining the school parking lot were ground level tight tiny rosettes of […]

Shawnee News-Star Garden April 4 2018

Red Stork's Bill

Becky Emerson Carlberg

There was not a lot of green in Piedmont several weeks ago, besides the ubiquitous redcedars that had popped up along fences and in some pastures.   What stood out embedded within the dead grass lining the school parking lot were ground level tight tiny rosettes of deep green leaves with small purple flowers. The symmetry of each plant was fascinating.

Erodium cicutarium is the formal name for Stork's Bill.   Also called Pinweed or Redstem Filaree, this member of the geranium family has leaves with reddish hairy stems and flower stems that support 4 to 8 pink to purple flowers, although only one or two bloom at the same time.  Erodium is actually the Greek word for heron, the long-legged wading bird. The flowers have little scent but form seed capsules shaped like thin beaks.   Each capsule will split into 5 segments that contain seeds.     As the capsules dry, they form spiral shapes that can either spring launch the seeds into the air suspended by feathery hairs or drive them like corkscrews into the ground.   This helps to explain why these plants live in extensive colonies.

The edge of the parking lot was a perfect place for the Stork's bill to live.   Sidewalks, disturbed fields, gardens, coastal harbor areas, dunes, storehouses, railroad tracks and yards are all places these plants have put themselves. They appreciate full sun, aren't picky about the soil (other than they like it on the dry side) and can take constant mowing.   Despite their small stature, the nectar and pollen of Stork's bill flowers are appealing to small bees and flies.   Aphids suck the sap and caterpillars, grasshoppers, cattle, sheep, goats and rabbits eat the leaves.   The seeds are collected by harvester ants and eaten by doves, pigeons, quail, gamebirds and some rodents.   Who knew since this low-growing small plant is not even native.

Stork's bill was brought to the Americas in the 1700's by the Spaniards from the Mediterranean.   The plant has really proliferated throughout the grasslands and deserts in the western part of our country.  To the north it is an annual, but in the south Stork's Bill has acquired a biennial lifestyle. The entire plant can be used as a green dye that does not need to be fixed in fabric. People eat this small plant.   When young it tastes like parsley.   The plant leaves can be steamed or boiled in salted water, eaten raw in salads or the roots chewed like gum.

Last but not least, Erodium seed capsules may be used as natural barometers.   The hairs wind together or uncurl, depending on the humidity.   Become a weather forecaster.   Line up your pine cones, Erodium seed capsules, and flat rocks.   Check for humidity by seeing how open the pine cones are, barometric changes by observing the Erodium hairs and precipitation by looking at the rocks.   If the rock is wet, it is raining.   If the rock is white, it is snowing.   If the rock has ice, it is sleeting or hailing.   If the rock is missing, run for cover.