Plant of the day: yerba de selva

Yerba de selva is one of those unassuming little plants that you see everywhere – but probably don’t know what it is. Whipplea modesta prefers forest glades and partially shady spots, where large groups of these many-armed plants often form a sprawling, semi-prostrate mat of stalks. Each stalk is dressed along its length with paired oval leaves that are noticeably hairy – their texture is slightly rough if you rub them between your fingers.

In the spring, yerba de selva sports little white heads of flowers. Each head is actually a cluster of tiny five-petaled blooms. The Peterson guide describes the flowers as petalless, so I had to do some research on that – technically, those things that look just like petals are actually specialized bracts (which are green on most plants). Another tricksy fact is that Yerba de selva is in the Saxifragaceae family, though this plant doesn’t at all have the look of a typical saxifrage, which pairs deeply lobed basal leaves with upright, airy spikes of delicate flowers. It does have the feature of having prominent stamens, roughly twice the number as there are “petals.” In many saxifrages those stamens are often offset so that they are even more prominent, clearly visible in the widely gaps between the petals. Click on the picture above to get a better look at what I mean.

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