poetry and prose about place

along the country road #1

with 6 comments

When I was taking botany in university, a requirement of my taxonomy course was to make a ‘collection’ of plants, so I could learn how to identify them.  Since I lived at home, and spent lots of time on the road, the easiest collection for me to make was of plants living along the roadside.

I made the collection, identified, pressed and dried each plant, glued them to the herbarium sheets, prepared their labels, and got a good mark in the course.  The real legacy of the collection was that I developed the habit of botanizing along the road, at the edges and in the ditches. Gradually, I learned the names of the plants of the roadside better than any other group.    

One of my favorite roadside plants is Common Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor).  In early summer, it’s a small herbaceous plant, with wiry stems and opposite leaves.  In the axil of each leaf is a yellow, two-lipped flower with an inflated green calyx.

The charm of Yellow Rattle is also the reason for its common name.  After flowering, when the calyx dries and turns brown, it becomes a natural rattle.  If you pick the dry plant and give it a shake, you can hear the seeds clattering inside the pod. 

Rhinanthus minor L. is also known as Rhinanthus Crista-galli L.  The old generic name crista-galli means cock’s-comb, from the deeply toothed flower parts.  The present generic name is from rhis meaning snout, referring to the shape of the flowers.  In French, the plant is called claquette (tap dance), or sonnette (door chime).

Do you have a favorite roadside plant?  Next time you take a walk along the road, what plants do you see and do you know their names?


The dry brown plants are the rattling seed-pods of Yellow Rattle. Photo was taken in early August, so no flowers are present. The yellow flowers you see in the photo are two other plant species.


Yellow Rattle            

                         Rhinanthus minor L.

weeds at the roadside

            tickle my ankles

            parchment whispers

                        like Alberta prairie

rattler whirr

I freeze

            as I do when mouse feet rustle

            in a house I thought empty


loose seeds

in paper packets

            yellow rattle snouts

                        test the air

            crista-galli flowers

                        toothed as a cock’s comb

            chatter at the north wind


            tap dance on the chilly breeze


            quick scratching at summer’s door


Published as: ‘Yellow Rattle’, Summer 1994, the Fiddlehead 180

© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm

6 Responses

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  1. So far one of my favourite poems Jane. I like how your imagination runs through this 🙂



    August 6, 2011 at 6:29 am

  2. One of my favorite plants of roadsides and fields in central Texas is Clematis drummondii:


    Steve Schwartzman

    August 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    • Hi Steve. Your photo of Clematis drummondi is delightful! We have a Clematis here too, Clematis virginiana L., common name Virgin’s Bower. Where it grows, it covers the shrubs and makes puff balls of seed. Jane


      jane tims

      August 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm

      • I learned just recently that C. virginiana is similar to C. drummondii and has the advantage of being much more widespread around the country.


        Steve Schwartzman

        August 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      • Hi Steve. I have a poem on Clematis virginiana and I’ll post that eventually. I have enjoyed looking at the photos on your site. Jane


        jane tims

        August 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

      • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the photos I’ve posted, Jane.


        Steve Schwartzman

        August 6, 2011 at 8:58 am

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