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Roadside weeds and wildflowers

1. This eurasian wild carrot can be a troublesome weed since it reproduces easily. Its lacy, flat-topped blossom is a head of tiny white flowers. After pollination, the head curls up, forming a brown, wooly cup that looks like a bird's nest. This nest or basket (a home for some insects) will fall off and roll away easily in an autumn breeze, just like a tumbleweed.

2. Its Latin name is "little frog," because it likes moist places. This shiny yellow flower can grow from one to four feet tall (there's a creeping variety, too). It may be found in open fields or along roadsides. The leaves and stems have a bad taste that deters cows and other grazers from eating it.

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For centuries, children have held the flashy flowers under the chins of playmates to test by the yellow reflection "whether they like butter."

3. Most of the world's 20,000 species of orchids are native to tropical rain forests. One is native to North America. Its pouch or "toe" is constructed for insects to deposit pollen. Also called a moccasin flower, it is found in deep, wet woodlands. The pink variety was once ranked No. 2 in a poll of the most beautiful flowers on the continent.

4. Native to the West, this flower - also known as hawkweed - is well-named for its brightly colored bracts (modified leaves) that look as if they have been dipped in bright orange-red paint. When the plants bloom in quick-spreading numbers in sunny fields and along roadsides, they make a stunning show of color, which is why they are also called "prairie fire."

They have earned themselves a bad reputation, however, by choking out other plants. And even if they are cut down, they pop right back up, hearty as ever.


(1) Queen Anne's lace; (2) buttercup; (3) lady-slipper; (4) devil's paintbrush.

Sources: 'An Introduction to Wildflowers,' by John Kiernan; 'Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles,' by Jack Sanders; 'North American Wildflowers,' by Barbara Burn; '100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names,' by Diana Wells; and 'Summer & Fall Wildflowers of New England,' by Marilyn Dwelley.

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