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Exploring the Western NY Wilds: Birdseye speedwell – a tiny flower of the spring

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By BOB CONFER, wellsvillesun.com and hornellsun.com columnist

While on your springtime hikes, especially along roadsides, public trails, and other well-worn areas that Mother Nature is always trying to reclaim, you might catch a glimpse of a diminutive blue flower that can easily escape detection, especially later in the spring when the grasses grow.

This beautiful sprite is birdseye speedwell.

Many people might need to put on their reading glasses to really appreciate the flower – they are only a quarter of an inch wide. Under close inspection you will notice the subtle light blue petals are streaked with purple. There are four petals in total – 3 larger ones up top and the fourth, smaller lobe on the bottom.

The plants from which they rise can be 4” to 12” in length, though not that in height as they grow off runners close to the ground and can create small mat-like colonies. Many gardeners look at speedwell as a weed for that reason. But, they should probably pause before ripping it up: Blooming as early as it does, well before other flowers do, speedwell is vital to the springtime health of pollinators like small bees and flies.

This tiny flower is native to Asia and Europe and was probably brought here by accident in the 1600s even though there was once some medicinal value to the plant that could have induced its global spread by colonists. Back in the day, a tea was brewed from the leaves that would aid in breaking up congestion. It’s believed that’s where the name came from – speedwell could be a take-off of “spit-well”. Another thought botanists have about the name’s origin is that it’s derived from the plant’s tendency to grow along roads – the tiny flowers would help speed travelers along, offering well wishes.

Regardless of its taxonomy, the birdseye speedwell is a welcome sign of spring, a delightful omen of better, warmer days ahead.

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