Wildflowers of the Westborough Reservoir

Late June

Indian-pipe, Wintergreen or Pyrola family (Pyrolaceae), Native
Indian Pipes

A day or so after a good summer rain, ghostly clusters of Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) start to push up at the Reservoir. These all-white plants can appear in late June. They continue to come up whenever conditions are right, through the end of September. The name comes from the shape of the plants in bloom, with their thick scaly stems and down-turned single blossoms, which look a bit like upside-down white clay pipes. Once the plants begin to produce seeds, they straighten up and turn black.

Indian pipes are saprophytic plants, living off dead plant matter, especially decaying tree roots. They get their nutrients with the help of various soil fungi but are not a fungus themselves. They are flowering plants that have lost their leaves and their green chlorophyll in the course of evolution. Indian pipes are native to North America and can be found across the continent.

Birdfoot Trefoil, Pea family (Leguminosae), Alien
Birdfoot Trefoil

A small, showy member of the pea family, birdfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has clusters of bright yellow flowers. The name comes from the arrangement of the seed pods, which suggest a bird's foot. Like other legumes, this plant has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that adds nitrogen to the soil in a form that plants can use as a nutrient.

Birdfoot trefoil also prospers in the lawn-like areas around shopping center parking lots in Westborough. It first blooms in June but continues throughout the summer if there is enough rain.

Yellow Goat's-beard, Composite or Daisy family (Compositae), Alien
Seed Head Yellow Goat's-beard

For a week or two in late June or early July, flowers of yellow goat's-beard (Tragopogon pratensis) appear among the meadow grasses at the Reservoir. The plant is also called noonflower because the flowers open in the early mornings but typically close by the middle of the day, avoiding the sun's greatest heat and harshest light, and then re-open the next morning. On cloudy days, the flowers may remain open. The buds and closed flowerheads have a distinctive slim arrowhead shape. A few flowers may continue to appear in the meadow throughout the summer.

Like its relative, the dandelion, yellow goat's-beard flowers transform themselves into round, feathery seedheads. These sizable blowballs are much larger and more striking than those of the dandelion.

In the past, yellow goat's-beard had various medicinal uses. It also had value as a food. Its roots were eaten like parsnips, and its stalks were eaten like asparagus.

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  Copyright © Anne A. Reid, 1999-2002.
  Photographs copyright © Garry K. Kessler, 1999-2002.