I walked on a different path yesterday. I found many flowers, but most were types that I’d seen before. I was feeling a little disappointed, but just before my walk’s end, I spotted something new. This unfamiliar white flower was growing next to a familiar pink flower (lady’s thumb). My first thought was that the two plants looked related. But then, when I got home and searched through my handy-dandy field guide, though the book listed several related plants, none of them had white flowers that looked like this. How frustrating!
I tried the Internet, of course, but as it so often does, it got me turned around in the wrong direction. I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to be able to identify this flower. Then I remembered that there was a good website for Connecticut wildflowers. We have many of the same plants here in Rhode Island, so it’s a good resource. I looked up “Connecticut wildflowers” and voila! My search engine presented me with the address for the Connecticut Botanical Society.
The Connecticut Botanical Society’s website is very useful. Browsing through all the white flowers took a while, but I found my plant, or at least its genus. I am certain now that my white flower is a smartweed, and as I had guessed, it is related to the lady’s thumb. I believe that it is mild water-pepper or another similar plant, such as dotted smartweed.
I am going to call it mild water-pepper and leave it that, rather than try to pinpoint the species more exactly. Years of plant identification have taught me that there are far more varieties of plants than most people realize. Even the plant that I called “lady’s thumb” might actually be a related plant, such as Pennsylvania smartweed. I am not interested in the extra work it would take to be absolutely certain. In some cases, it wouldn’t even be possible for an amateur such as myself, and usually, it seems to me, when species are very much alike, they are interchangeable in most ways. They are interchangeable for my purposes, anyway.
Regarding lady’s thumb, I had always wondered where its name came from. It doesn’t look very thumblike, does it? It turns out that the name is a reference to the leaf, which typically has a dark, thumbprint-like splotch on it. I have never noticed that feature before. I will look for it the next time I see this plant, and take pictures, of course!