Subtle flowers

Today, some subtle flowers that might go unnoticed if we didn’t take a closer look. Let’s start with Paris quadrifolia, a close relative of our native trilliums. We’ve got three species of trillium in the hills surrounding us, so I naturally thought Paris should do well here, but I had a devil of a time trying to get it established. It took three tries to get it to survive and the problem is that this plant is fairly expensive because it is so slow growing. Usually, I will try a plant in three areas before giving up on it entirely and in this case the third try was the charm. Trial plant #3, from Windcliff Plants (, was put in the south stream garden in 2019. I was elated when it first emerged in spring 2020. If I can get a plant through the first summer and winter, that is usually half the battle. Then, here it is again in April 2021. It officially made it through the second winter and there was a third stem this spring! This is one I like as a plant collector. “Paris” refers to the symmetry of the leaves and flowers, not to the city or to Greek mythology. I am drawn to symmetry and typically favor plants with a strong symmetrical form.

Even though this plant had five leaves (contradicting the specific epithet “quadrifolia“, here you can see the strong tendency towards four with the four thinner green petals, four wider green sepals, eight yellow stamens, and the four purple stigmas sticking out of the dark purple ovary in the center.

The second subtle flower I want to highlight is from a new butchers broom (Ruscus x microglossus) I planted last year, also from Windcliff Plants. This is planted underneath the trees in our apple orchard. Ruscus is supposed to be shade and drought tolerant, which is a big selling point for me. And, it is simply just a cool plant. Those aren’t leaves, those are flattened branches called cladodes. Something has been munching on ours, which is irritating. It doesn’t look like much now, but we will give it a few years to see how it fills out. Hopefully whatever is eating it goes away.

Another feature that makes Ruscus cool is that it blooms on those cladodes. Here is what is left of the flower after blooming earlier in the year. You can see what I assume are a pair of old stamens (with the pollen long gone) and the ovary that will become a red berry later in the year. It reminds me a bit of a brontosaurus head swerving over to the left.

Our native devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus) has some pretty inconspicuous flowers. This is the third year it has bloomed and it gets clusters of red fruit later in the summer. So far I can’t get them to germinate, which makes me wonder if it is self-incompatible. I want more of this plant! One of the falling poplar branches from the ice storm in February knocked off two branches, so I am trying to root them as cuttings.

Here are the flowers. Sort of pretty, and one of the only parts of the plant that aren’t covered in spines. You can see a couple of the spines on the leaves (lower left corner) and on the petioles and stems in the background. Gotta love a plant that has a specific epithet “horridus“.

Another subtle native flower is the piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii). Called piggyback plant because it produces baby plants where the petiole joins the leaf. Used as a houseplant. I always wanted one as a boy, little did I know I would have a yard full of them when I grew up. This was a hard flower to get a good photo of, and my plants don’t look particularly lush right now, but I do like them.

I had to put a rhubarb leaf behind the flower spike to get it to show up. Very spidery flowers, greenish with subtle brown veining.

Another native plant with greenish flowers is our Pacific waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes). There are populations that have more purple coloring, but we happen to have the green flowered one.

White feverwort (Triosteum pinnatifidum) not native. It is a weirdo from the honeysuckle family. It’s neither a shrub nor a vine, like many of the other plants in this family, and its flowers are not showy or sweet smelling. Instead, its leaves have a bit of a pungent scent when brushed or crushed. Sort of like tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) or burnt peanut butter. I am growing it for the leaves and the white berries that follow the flowers.

The flowers from April 28th look like this. Another greenish flower, this one speckled reddish brown. For some reason, a lot of these smaller, subtle flowers are shades of green. Makes me wonder what the main pollinators are. I looked up a couple articles online – looks like small, inconspicuous flowers may be pollinated by ants, flies, or the wind, depending on which plant species we are talking about. I definitely would have missed these flowers had I not been so excited that this plant had just made it through its first winter and had been checking on it weekly to watch its progress.

Mouse tails (Arisarum proboscideum)! You wouldn’t know this plant was blooming would you? Look what is below those arrowhead shaped leaves.

This! Do you see the mouse tail?

I can’t help it. I always need to investigate. Here is where the insects get in to pollinate underneath the tail.

And a careful dissection shows what’s inside. Fungus gnats are the main pollinator, entering through the hole (red arrow) at the front of the plant. I recommend reading the blog post over at In Defense of Plants ( to read more about the pollination process involving, of all things, fungal mimicry. Apparently, the gnats are fooled into thinking that white structure is a fungus because of the way it looks, feels, and smells, and then end up wandering around inside and pollinating the flower in the process. I agree with Matt Candeias, the writer, that this is “one of the most charming aroids in existence.”

Just a little more dissection to get the full effect.

One last subtle flower for today’s post. See that yellow paint-splashed plant over to the right? That’s Saxifraga x urbium ‘Aureopunctata’. Also commonly called London Pride. Those are its white flowers off to the left.

Mainly, I just wanted to show off a closeup shot of the flower. I like the pink and yellow spotting. Reminds me of those frosted animal cookies with the sprinkles.

In other garden news, the robins hatched this week.

Found this on the sidewalk about 50 feet away.

That’s it for this post. Heading out tomorrow to Portland. Will hopefully get to stop at some nurseries.