July 21, 2017

Poor Man’s Weather-glass

Anagallis arvensis

Anagallis arvensis - Photos courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Anagallis arvensis

Anagallis arvensis

Plants’ reaction to their surroundings often prompts the common name, and Anagallis arvensis is no exception with one of its monikers, the above title of this piece. Why a weather-glass? This member of the primrose family has quarter-inch red-orange flowers that open only in the sun, closing in “dull weather.” The more common name of Anagallis arvensis is scarlet pimpernel, a tiny little annual that grows but 2 to 6 inches tall. It is a European native and can be found by roadsides and waste sites, according to the Connecticut Botanical Society, usually in sandy soils. And where exactly does the word pimpernel come from? According to the Free Dictionary, it is from the Middle English pimpernelle, altered from the Old French piprenelle and that from the late Latin pimpinella, “perhaps from Latin piper.” That doesn’t really answer the question, but if we use our imagination we imagine this: The piper reference brings us back to the title, with the little scarlet pimpernel piping up to announce what the weather is like.

Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.