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Arenaria macrophylla

Arenaria macrophylla. I saw this little wildflower on our hike yesterday. Small clumps grew here and there next to rocks or Douglas firs. Green spiky leaves and those little white stars of flowers. Nothing flashy or unusual about it, just a little woodland wildflower. Unless you are a serious student of wildflowers and live in the western or northern United States, you have probably never heard even of it. Especially since its name has changed—I don’t know when—to Moehringia macrophylla. However, this little plant with the tiny white flowers will always be special to me.

 Back when I was a kid, every sophomore biology student in our class had to make a wildflower collection. Having looked forward to the process since my older brother took biology three years earlier, I happily spent the spring searching woods and fields for new flowers. My parents drove me to places like the Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood to find different varieties, but my favorite place for exploration was the railroad right-of-way behind our home. I loved to wander the paths, listening to the birds singing and the breeze blowing through the maples and firs. Finding wildflowers just gave me another excuse to escape to the woods.

 I found many flowers there—two species of trilliums, Johnny jump-ups, spring beauties, candy stripes, piggyback plants, hazelnut, elderberry, and many more. Some I already knew; others I looked up in Helen Gilkey’s Handbook of Northwest Flowering Plants, the same book older brother had used. It was like a puzzle using the “analytical key” to narrow down a flower to one particular species. Were the petals joined or separate? How many stamens did it have? Was the corolla regular or irregular? (And no, I don’t remember what all the items in that list mean anymore.)

 When I noticed this tiny little white flower nestled up against a Douglas fir, I was especially intrigued. Having no idea what it was, I analyzed it carefully until I came, finally, down to genus and species: arenaria macrophylla. The book gave no common name. Arenaria macrophylla seemed a long name for a little plant, but I loved it—the first plant I knew only by its scientific name. Discovered practically in my backyard.

 I see arenaria macrophylla—excuse me, Moehringia macrophylla—from time to time when out hiking, and it always takes me back to my youth and the wonder of discovery, the joy that even a tiny white flower can bring.

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