Plant of the Week
American Brooklime (Veronica americana)
By Walter Fertig
Relatively few flowers are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that only a single plane of symmetry exists that will bisect the flower into equal, mirror-image halves. Human faces also exhibit bilateral symmetry. Perhaps it is not surprising then that we are drawn to flowers that share our type of symmetry. Many of the world’s most popular garden plants have bilaterally symmetrical flowers, including orchids, peas, iris, and monkeyflower (Mimulus). The 200 plus species of Veronica in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) might join this group if only their bilaterally symmetrical flowers were not so miniscule (averaging less than ¼ inch across).
Superficially, Veronica flowers resemble a human face when viewed front-on, or at least if our faces were blue, purple, or pinkish-white. The four petals of the flower are fused at the base into a shallow, flattened saucer. The uppermost petal is the largest and actually consists of two petals that have become completely fused into one. This petal might be mistaken for an enlarged forehead, while the two petals to its sides resemble swollen cheeks. The floral face is completed by the lowest petal, which is significantly smaller and narrower than the others and forms the chin. Some botanical scholars attribute the name Veronica to Saint Veronica, who provided Jesus with a washcloth to wipe his brow and came away with an image of his face on the fabric.
American brooklime (Veronica americana) is one of the largest of the 34 species of Veronica that are native or introduced in North America. The name brooklime is derived from the plant’s preferred habitat: the muddy (lime) banks of running brooks and other riparian areas. American brooklime ranges from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to North Carolina, Texas, California, and the mountains of central Mexico. The plant can be recognized by its opposite pairs of petiolate stem leaves (the similar V. anagallis-aquatica, introduced from Europe, has sessile stem leaves). The tiny flowers are borne in branching racemes in the axils of the upper stem leaves and are open primarily in July and August. Individual flowers are short-lived, earning the plant its other common name “speedwell” for the rapidity with which the petals are shed.