nettles in bloom

You may recall a previous post about stinging nettles. They are now blooming, but as we shall see they are probably also doomed. First, let’s examine the delicate flowers.

Like almost all wind-pollinated flowers, those of stinging nettles are quite small and not at all showy. In fact, there are no visible petals. The tiny flowers shown here are little more than capsules the size of sand grains.

Nettles are dioecious, meaning that each entire plant is either male or female. The plant featured here is the only stinging nettle in my garden, and it is male. I am watching throughout the whole garden for nettle seedlings, which I will carefully nurture (and maybe transplant if they are not in a good place). I’d like a female plant so I can harvest some seeds.

When each male flower capsule becomes ripe, it bursts in the warm sun, releasing a little puff of airborne pollen. Watching for a few minutes, I noticed one of these puffs every thirty seconds or so from each flower-bearing stem. Sadly, I was unable to photograph a pollen-burst – they happen very fast, and in less than a second all the pollen vanishes like smoke into the air.

Here’s an even closer look at those flowers. They may look soft and fuzzy, but the flowers are just as nastily stinging as the leaves and stems!

As I mentioned, this nettle plant may be doomed. Why? Because it shares a container with some extremely vigorous sunchokes (AKA Jerusalem artichokes), which are basically strangling anything else growing there. I would have harvested all the sunchoke tubers from this container last fall, but the stinging nettle plant had many stems at that time and I just didn’t want to dive in there and dig in the soil, even with gloves on. Nettle stings really do hurt!

As a result of the non-intervention last fall, the sunchoke tubers multiplied at the expense of the nettles, and completely took over the container. In the picture below, the dense, broad yellow-green leaves belong to the sunchokes, while the last remaining nettle stems are the spindly-looking ones sticking up above the sunchokes. It seems unlikely the nettle will survive until sunchoke harvest time later this year.

In this picture you can also see a small Santa Barbara daisy, also struggling to survive, down in the semi-shade on the right side:

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