The Color Purple

I look forward to spring for a number of reasons, one of which is mowing my lawn. This year’s weekend spring rains have put me a bit behind schedule for getting the mower out, but it certainly hasn’t stopped the yard from growing one bit – everything was going gangbusters, and starting to look much more like a meadow than a lawn. (I’m sure the neighbors were starting to give me the stink eye, but they’ll get over it.) THIS was the weekend I’d been waiting for.

My very favorite part of spring mowing, aside from getting outside for a change, is checking out all of the beautiful little treasures that Mother Nature has sprinkled around for those who choose to look. (Most people call them weeds but I think they’re neat.)  And every spring, as I walk the mower back and forth across the yard, I can’t help but think about the title quote from The Color Purple:

I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.

I certainly notice – and I enjoy it immensely.  My yard is filled with purple!  (And some other cool stuff as well.)

Wild violets

Wild violets are one of my favorites, and they are growing everywhere! This is a larger one in the unmowed corner of my yard down by the creek, but the lawn is dotted with little ones as well. Not only are they pretty with their delicate purple flowers, but they’re edible as well! Both the leaves and flowers can be tossed in your salad and are absolutely bursting with vitamin C.


Ground ivy

Ground ivy is probably the bane of every lawn owner’s existence, but it does look pretty in the spring!  Oh sure, I’ll curse it and rip it out of my lawn by the handful this summer, but for now I’m content to enjoy it’s spring show. Based on the number of bees happily buzzing around it right now, the early pollinators are appreciative of my decision to “let it bee.” 🙂


Purple dead nettle

Purple dead nettle isn’t quite as prolific as the previous, but it does pop up here and there in undisturbed corners. I wouldn’t characterize it as pretty so much as interesting — the leaves morph from a reddish-purple at the top to lighter shades down the stem, with tiny light purple flowers peeking out from underneath. The younger growth is also edible, although I’ve yet to try it.


Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem was one of the neat little surprises I noticed in the yard when I first moved in. The teeny tiny white star-shaped flowers (hence the name) open and close with the sun. It grows mostly by the base of a big tree in the middle of the yard – along with the English Ivy that escaped from somewhere – so I just mow around it and let it do its thing.



Yet another good salad weed – the common dandelion. Right now my yard is peppered with their happy yellow faces, but they won’t be there for long. They’re a favorite of Woody, the resident groundhog we inherited who lives under the shed. He’ll wander around the yard sucking them up like a furry vacuum cleaner, and by the end of the week they’ll be gone.


May apple

And last, my very favorite — the May Apple (also known as the American or wild Mandrake). This weird little plant grows in profusion down in the corner by the creek, interspersed with the wild violets.  It seems to grow a bit backwards from the rest of the vegetative world – in the spring it pokes its bullet-shaped head up through the soil, and then unfolds its leaves upwards like a little umbrella. Underneath the umbrella it will soon bloom with a small white flower (you have to bend down and look underneath to actually see it), followed shortly by a small fruit.  The fruit, if prepared correctly, supposedly makes a wonderful jam, but seeing as the vast majority of the plant is poisonous I’m going to keep it out of my kitchen.  Fun fact: the Native Americans are rumored to have used the May Apple as a suicide drug.



And speaking of Native Americans, I’ll leave you with one final local plant pointed out to me by my Native American grandfather that hasn’t popped up yet but will soon be down by the creek in abundance. Jewel Weed, also known as Touch-Me-Not, is a lovely little plant with whitish translucent stems that grows beside creeks, in ditches, and other damp areas.  This wild member of the Impatiens family not only has a pretty little flower, but it’s useful, too – the crushed stems make a very effective poultice for getting rid of poison ivy rash.  (Just be careful when picking it, because poison ivy usually grows in the same vicinity.)

So what’s growing in your yard?  Have you bothered to look?  Don’t piss God off – go check out the purple.

Colleen Clifford

Leave a Reply