Bird's Eye Speedwell
Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae)
Description: This winter or spring annual plant is about 4-12" long, branching occasionally. Mature plants have a tendency to sprawl across the ground. The slender stems are terete and pubescent. The lower leaves are opposite, while the upper leaves are alternate. Individual leaves are up to 1/2" long and 1/3" (8 mm.) across; they are medium to dark green, oval-orbicular, coarsely crenate-dentate, and slightly hairy. The petioles of the leaves are short.
Solitary flowers develop from the axils of the upper leaves. Each flower is about 1/3" (8 mm.) across, consisting of a corolla with 4 petal-like lobes and a calyx with 4 prominent teeth. The corolla is blue-violet, becoming white toward the center; it has dark blue-violet lines that radiate from the center of the flower. One lobe of the corolla is a little smaller than the others. The reproductive organs consist of a pistil with a single style and 2 stamens. The teeth of the green calyx are lanceolate and slightly ciliate; they are shorter than the lobes of the corolla. The pedicels of the flowers are about ½–¾" in length. The blooming period typically occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about 1-2 months. Plants tend to fade away during the heat of the summer. Each flower is replaced by a 2-celled seed capsule that is flattened and slightly heart-shaped; the seed capsule is more wide than tall (about 1/3" across and 1/4" tall). Each cell of the seed capsule contains several small seeds. Individual seeds are ovoid in shape, but strongly concave on one side. The root system consists of a mass of slender fibrous roots. This plant reproduces by reseeding itself, and sometimes forms colonies.
Cultivation: Bird's Eye Speedwell prefers partial to full sun, moist conditions, and a rich loamy soil. However, it will adapt to rocky and other kinds of poor soil. Most vegetative growth and development occurs during the cool weather of spring, when moisture amounts are higher than average. Because this species is rather large for an annual Veronica sp., it does not adapt well to regular mowing.
Range & Habitat: Bird's Eye Speedwell is widely scattered throughout Illinois. Although this species is not particularly common, official records probably underestimate its occurrence within the state. Typical habitats include nurseries, gardens, edges of yards, moist waste areas, and borders of foundation walls. This plant is typically found in areas with a history of disturbance; it is native to Europe.
Faunal Associations: The flowers attract small bees and various flies. The foliage is not known to be toxic and is probably eaten by various mammalian herbivores, particularly rabbits.
Photographic Location: A flower garden at the Arboretum of the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: Bird's Eye Speedwell is one of the larger and more attractive weedy Veronica spp. from Europe. It is distinguished from other weedy species in this genus by its larger flowers (about 1/3" across) and longer pedicels (about 1/2" or longer). Another distinctive trait is the shape of its seed capsules: they are noticeably more wide than tall. Other Veronica spp. typically have seed capsules that are at least as tall as they are wide. Like other weedy Veronica spp., Bird's Eye Speedwell produces solitary flowers from the axils of its upper leaves. Non-weedy Veronica spp. are often perennials with larger flowers that are produced from terminal or axillary racemes. Species in this latter group often prefer wetland habitats and some of them are native to Illinois.