PODS: Wildflowers and Weeds

podsPODS: Wildflowers and Weeds in Their Final Beauty

Written by Jane Embertson

Reviewed by Maryann Whitman

This softcover book contains 454 color photos of 150 seed heads of plants. There may be two versions of the book. I am only familiar with the first one, printed in 1979, by Charles Scribner’s Sons. A hardcover version does exist.

One hundred of the plants pictured are native to somewhere in mainland United States; 50 of the seed heads are those of plants native to the other parts of the world. All of the plants represented are commonly found in our road-side ditches, old fields, and woodlands. As a result this booklet (186 pages), is a useful ID guide. I’m not aware of another small book that has the seed heads so readily laid out.

At the outset of the book the author gives a set of provisions about plant collecting, starting with “educate yourself so you know what you are picking. Don’t pick a pod you cannot identify. Don’t take the entire lot, leave some for the animals that feed on the seed.” She specifically states her concern for rare and protected plants. This is as it should be.

The author then writes a brief statement “Dispelling myths about ‘Weeds’.” Here she touts the beauty, and the soil stabilizing, and improving attributes of many ‘weeds’ that were brought to North America from Europe. She says, “Most ‘weeds’…are valuable and useful to the environment and add to the great beauty of the landscape.” She proceeds to lump together “the Goldenrod, Milkweed, and Sunflower families, and particularly Sweet Clover” as “important soil builders.” The first three families are valuable and native to this continent; last plant, Melilotus officinalis, is an introduced plant that is on the Invasive Plants lists of all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and all the Canadian provinces.

I understand that this was printed more than 30 years ago, however even then something was known about invasive qualities of introduced plants.

The author states in her introduction, that “the focus of this book is the decorative seed containers.”

But… apart from the attractive architectural structures of the seed pods and seed heads, is the reality that they are in fact seed-bearing structures. When they are moved from the spot where they are originally found, they are likely to strew their seeds hither and yon until their contents are spent.

What she does not point out is that many of the non-native plants she lists are easily spread. Today many of these species are considered invasive and appear on state lists declaring them as such—including garlic mustard and purple loosestrife. This is important to know before you bring these seeds home and share bouquets around your neighborhood.

Invasive plants are undesirable because they take space and resources away from natives plants. And native plants are the ones that our pollinators and other insects, our birds that feed on the bugs, and a variety of other native fauna recognize and feed on, maintaining the circle of life—even in our road-side ditches.

If you do intend to collect pods and are not already thoroughly familiar with them, collect them cautiously. Transport the seed heads in plastic bags until you can identify them. Then discard the non-natives, especially the potentially invasive ones, into landfills when you’re finished using your dried plant arrangement(s).

March/April 2014 | Wild Ones Journal