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Friday January 19, 2018
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Notes from the Field



The pale-green, button-like flowers and purple-red berries arrayed along magenta racemes look like faintly sinister jewels. The plant's stems, too, are vivid red, accentuating the lunar green of the flowers.

The plant is called redweed, too, and red-ink plant, and inkberry. The berries feed birds and yield a red dye. They've been used to color wine, though every part of the plant is toxic and must be boiled for a long time before ingesting. The leaves and roots have been used as medicine for rheumatism, skin cancer, and other conditions.

Pokeweed is one of a myriad of plants colonizing a vacant lot that is a cauldron of everyday transformation on Broadway. I have been watching this field for years.

I walk along the fence, noting plants that I recognize and many more that I don't. Tree of heaven, with fronds of leaves resembling sumac, and fringes of seed pods, orange from above, yellow-green underneath. Thistles, locust, sumac. (Sound of Traver Creek nearby.) Milkweed, poplars, Queen Anne's lace. (Big trucks pulling up and parking.) Bindweed: little white morning glories leaping the fence and popping up through the grass like stars. (Padlock. Stuffed toy monkey with a beatific smile inserted in the fence.) Wildflower plantings: coneflower, black-eyed Susan. Sweeping views of a poplar grove merging into the darker, cloudlike masses of Cedar Bend hill. Mullein. Lots of medicinal plants. (Medical students in blue scrubs walking by focused inward or elsewhere.)

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