Iowa wildflower Wednesday: White vervain

White vervain (Verbena urticifolia) may be the most difficult plant to photograph of some 180 species Bleeding Heartland has featured for this series since 2012. Tiny white flowers are always a challenge to capture in focus, and these blossoms are even smaller than those of Aunt Lucy or wild chervil.

Though fairly common in its native range, covering much of the U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains, white vervain is easily overlooked because of its small flowers. Like its relative hoary vervain, it can thrive in low-quality habitats. The Illinois Wildflowers website comments,

Habitats include open disturbed woodlands, woodland borders, thickets, powerline clearances in wooded areas, semi-shaded areas along paths, damp meadows along streams, gravelly seeps, and abandoned fields. White Vervain is usually found in habitats with a history of disturbance. It is somewhat weedy, but rarely forms colonies, existing primarily as scattered individual plants.


Come to think of it, I’ve never seen large colonies of white vervain. Here are a few pictures from last summer and this month, along the Windsor Heights or Walnut Creek bike trails.

When I put out the word a few weeks ago that I was looking for better shots of white vervain, Phil Specht said he thought he could find some on his Clayton County pastures: “cows don’t eat it, so after a pass it sticks out.” Illinois Wildflowers concurs that mammalian herbivores avoid this plant’s “bitter coarse foliage.” Many kinds of pollinators are attracted to the flowers, and some insects consume the leaves. You can see holes in a couple of Phil’s close-ups.

The Minnesota Wildflowers website notes, “When White Vervain is in full bloom, it can have dozens of spikes flying out in all directions. While typical plants are 4 feet tall or less, a robust specimen can reach heights of 6 feet.” Phil photographed some plants that are quite tall.

He said he used a macro lens from about six inches away to get this shot of the flowers against a truck door.

The next five shots are from Wendie Schneider’s collection of white vervain photos taken in Story County.

Finally, Lora Conrad captured a white vervain plant in Van Buren County from a different angle.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Fun photos!!

    It’s good to learn that Phil Specht is still working in his pastures. Long may his fortunate cattle happily thrive. And three cheers for another native wildflower that deer don’t like.

    It’s clear that little pollinators often have different standards than most humans. White vervain is not gorgeous by conventional garden standards, but it is tall teensy-flowered wonderfulness to many kinds of bees and flies. And it’s tall enough that the little pollinators can be easy to see. And it grows in some disturbed areas where many native wildflowers can’t grow. Great to see it here.

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