poetry and prose about place

identifying an unknown plant

with 2 comments

This is NOT a how to identify a plant post. If anything, it is a how not to identify a plant post.

It started with a plant I saw on one of our ‘field trips.’ In my own defense, I had never seen this plant before.






I thought it looked like a sumac, a plant very common in our province. It had pinnately compound leaves and a terminal inflorescence. The flower didn’t look right; it was too diffuse, too brown and ragged. The leaves had a very wrinkled look, unlike the leaves of sumac. But I took lots of photos, enough to show me stem hairiness, a characteristic I know is important to the identification of sumac.


tight, red flower cluster of staghorn sumac


Back at the house with my photos, the computer and my plant identification books, I proceeded with my detective work. Humph. Didn’t seem quite right. I even asked a biologist friend and consulted an excellent How to know the sumac species video. I now know the three local sumac species: Rhus typhina (hairy twigs), Rhus glabra (smooth twigs) and Rhus copallina (winged twigs).


None were quite right. Rhus typhina or staghorn sumac was closest, but the flowers were not right at all. Since plants of staghorn sumac are either male or female and no one shows photos of the male flowers, I decided it must be a male staghorn sumac.


staghorn sumac near our cabin


Fast forward a week and I went to see the beautiful flower garden of my biologist friend. Saw something that looked like my mystery plant and proudly said, “Your sumac is a male.” Bzzzz! Not a sumac but an Astilbe. Ahah! My mom had Astilbe in her garden. That must be it. I sang all the way home. Back to the computer. Hmmmmm. None of the leaves were quite right.


I gave up, but feeling closer than ever, I went to a group I belong to on Facebook. ‘Plant Identification‘ is a no-nonsense, no chit-chat group. I posted my photos and my whereabouts and, within a couple of comments, I had the answer. Sorbaria sorbifolia. False astilbe. False spirea. False goat’s beard. I looked at some reference photos. The leaves are right! The flowers are right (past flowering and brown). The description is right! Yayyyyy!


Sorbaria sorbifolia. Source: Hydro-Quebec


Now, after a little more research, I can write my poem!




Now for all the comments that say you recognized the mystery plant right away!


This work was made possible by a Creations Grant from artsnb!


All my best!


Written by jane tims

August 24, 2020 at 7:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. False new, Jane?

    Liked by 1 person

    Patricia Ann Post

    August 24, 2020 at 9:40 am

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