Pilewort flower heads and seeds (photo by Kate St. John)
This week there’s a lot of fluff in the air from flowers gone to seed. In my neighborhood it’s from a plant called American burnweed or pilewort that grows on burned sites and waste places. It loves the urban setting.
Though it’s a native plant in the Aster family, pilewort (Erechtites hieraciifolius) is far from beautiful. Two to eight feet tall it looks very weedy, even ugly. Each branch tip ends in a long green capsule that looks like a seed pod.
Pilewort plant (photo by Kate St. John)
Are they seeds? No. I learned more when a bee paused to nectar on top of one.
A very close look revealed that the tip is a cluster of tiny flowers.
Individual pilewort flower (photo by Kate St. John)
I opened the capsule and fanned its contents. Under magnification you can see the tiny white, almost translucent flowers with five petals, a protruding split pistil, and lavender centers.
They’re hard to photograph but here are two of my best attempts.
Individual pilewort flower capsule, spread to show the tiny flowers (photo by Kate St. John)
Individual pilewort flowers, spread out to show their details (photo by Kate St. John)
Most of the capsules have yellow tips. Probably stamens, but even harder to see.
After the flowers are pollinated the green capsules split open and the long white filaments carry the seeds through the air.
Ugly from afar, pilewort’s beauty is microscopic.
(photos by Kate St.John)