Mute swan (Cygnus olor). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taiwan squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus ssp. taiwanensis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Railroad creeper (Ipomoea cairica). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anatidae Swans, geese, and ducks
Anser anser Greylag goose
This species is widely distributed in northern Eurasia, from Iceland and Britain across northern Europe and Central Asia to northern China, with a scattered occurrence in south-eastern Europe, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. In many countries, the species is now breeding in city parks, where it often becomes remarkably confiding – sometimes even showing a threatening attitude towards people.
Domestic geese are descended from the greylag goose. In some places, including North America and Australia, domestic geese have escaped to form feral populations.
Child, feeding greylag geese between bars in a fence, surrounding St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
When they have goslings, greylag geese are often so bold that they sometimes threaten passing people. This male goose in a city park in Copenhagen, Denmark, is hissing at me because of its goslings in the foreground, but is itself being threatened by a male mute swan (Cygnus olor). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cygnus olor Mute swan
In 1984, the mute swan was elected the national bird of Denmark – an appropriate choice, as it is very common. This was not always the case. In the 1800s, swans were hunted in Denmark, and by 1920, only three or four pairs were breeding in the vicinity of Copenhagen. Swans were protected in 1926, and the mute swan soon began spreading across the country.
In his fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen relates the fate of a cygnet, which is ostracized by its fellow fowl in a farmyard, where it has been hatched together with ducklings. It has to undergo much suffering, before it realizes that it has matured into a beautiful swan. In reality, this story is about the fate of Andersen himself.
The mute swan is native to northern Europe, from southern Norway and southern Finland, southwards to southern France and Romania, and from Ireland eastwards to western Russia and Ukraine, and with patchy breeding occurrence in the Balkans, Turkey, and Central Asia, eastwards to southern Siberia, Mongolia, and northern China. It has also been introduced elsewhere, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
As opposed to the other northern European swans, the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) and Bewick’s swan (C. columbianus ssp. bewickii), the mute swan is not very vocal, hence the appellation mute. The name Cygnus is a Latinized form of the Greek kyknos (‘swan’), whereas olor is Latin, also meaning ‘swan’.
Some pairs of mute swans build their nest in the most unlikely places. In this picture, and in a picture on top of this page, swans have occupied pontoons in a canal in Copenhagen, oblivious of passing people or tourist boats. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In severe winters, many starving water birds gather in harbours, where conditions are often less harsh than in open areas. The picture below shows a woman in Lausanne, Switzerland, feeding various bird species, including mute swans, coots (Fulica atra, see Rallidae below), tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula), black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus, see Laridae below), and feral pigeons (Columba livia).
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Apus nipalensis House swift
Formerly, this bird was classified as a subspecies of little swift (Apus affinis), but today, most authorities regard populations, which are distributed from Nepal eastwards to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, as a separate species.
Colonies of house swift on a residential building, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Araneidae Orb-weaver spiders
In this picture from the town of Anping, Taiwan, sunshine is reflected as the colours of the rainbow in an orb-weaver spider’s web. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ardea cinerea Grey heron
The grey heron is distributed in the major part of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Madagascar. Formerly, this species was a very shy bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities. In America, it is replaced by the similar, slightly larger great blue heron (Ardea herodias).
Other pictures, depicting grey herons, are shown on the pages Fishing, and Animals: Birds in Taiwan, whereas the great blue heron is presented on the page In praise of the colour blue.
This grey heron was encountered in the harbour of Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gorsachius melanolophus Malayan night-heron
This small heron mainly breeds in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, with northern outposts in north-eastern India and Taiwan. The majority are resident, but Indian birds, as well as some northern birds of Southeast Asia, spend the winter in Indonesia or Malaysia. The main habitats of this species are forest and marshy areas, but in Taiwan, where it is fairly common, it is often found in city parks, where it can become remarkably confiding. The pictures below are from the city of Taichung.
The pair of Malayan night-herons in the picture below was encountered in a park. The bird to the left is probably a male in breeding plumage, showing deep blue lores and a long crest, whereas the other bird presumably is a female, which is not yet sexually mature, or has retained the immature plumage – a character known from females of this species. (See Chuan-Chiung Chang: Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus breeding in immature plumage, Forktail 16 (2000), pp. 167-168)
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature Malayan night-heron, foraging in a polluted stream. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bird is sitting on its day-roost, a garden wall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The windscreen of this long-term parked car is covered in guano, which has dropped from a Malayan night-heron nest in the tree above. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nycticorax nycticorax Black-crowned night-heron
This smallish heron is found in most warmer parts of the world, except in Australia, where it is replaced by the closely related rufous night-heron (N. caledonicus). The generic name means ‘night raven’, from the Greek nuktos (‘night’) and korax (‘raven’), referring to the mainly nocturnal feeding habits of this genus, and their hoarse, raven-like call.
In Taiwan, the black-crowned night-heron is quite common and often confiding. This adult bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These immature black-crowned night-herons were also observed in a drainage canal in Taichung. The bird in the lower picture is searching for fish. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many species of cockroaches have adapted to a life in cities, where they are often an immense nuisance. In traditional Chinese medicine, these animals are used against a number of ailments, such as abdominal problems, stroke, and bone fractions, and also as an anti-ageing agent. An ethnic minority in the Yunnan Province used cockroaches to treat open wounds. New research has shown that these animals contain at least nine different antibacterial substances, and one substance is able to kill AIDS virus.
For hundreds of years, cockroaches have been utilized as food in northern China. A cream, containing intestines of cockroaches and other ingredients, is applied by Chinese women to their skin to keep it young. A booming industry is producing skin cream and medicine from millions of cockroaches, kept in captivity.
Cockroaches prefer humid surroundings. This one was photographed in a bathroom in the town of Bontoc, northern Luzon, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cercopithecidae Old World monkeys
In Hinduism, Rama is the seventh incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu, and main character in the great epic Ramayana. One day, his fiancée, Sita, is abducted by Ravana, a demon king from Sri Lanka. Hanuman, who is the leader of the monkey army, is a great help to Rama in his struggle to liberate Sita. As a reward for his services, Hanuman was raised to become a Hindu deity.
Due to the great deeds performed by the monkey army in the Ramayana, monkeys are considered sacred among Hindus, and troops of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), or grey langurs (Semnopithecus) often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus. They also roam the cities in search of food, often being a pest to street vendors, who sell vegetables and fruit.
These monkeys, and numerous other species of monkeys and apes, as well as a more detailed account of the role of Hanuman in the Ramayana, are presented in depth on the page Animals: Monkeys and apes.
Macaca mulatta Rhesus monkey
The rhesus monkey is found in a wide variety of habitats in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and in Myanmar, including in cities, where it is often very common.
This rhesus monkey is walking along a narrow wall, surrounding the Hawa Mahal Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkey, sitting on a balcony in front of a residential home in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This rhesus monkey jumps from one house wall to another, likewise in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Macaca radiata Bonnet macaque
In South Indian cities, this species takes over the role of the North Indian rhesus monkey, especially around Hindu temples, where they eat offerings of rice and flowers.
In temples, bonnet macaques often become obese, as this one, resting on a sculpture of an elephant in the Sri Minakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This street performer in the city of Tirumalai, Andhra Pradesh, has caught two young bonnet macaques, training them to perform. They seem to be arguing about something. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Semnopithecus entellus Northern plains langur
This species is widespread in northern, central, and south-central India, from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal southwards to Telangana and northern Karnataka and Kerala, with a small population in western Bangladesh.
The northern plains langur is quite common, living in a variety of habitats, including forests, scrubland, temple groves, gardens, and towns, up to an altitude of c. 1,700 m. It is locally threatened by habitat loss due to intensified agriculture and fires, and by hunting for food by newly settled people in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Previously, western and southern populations of this species were regarded as a separate species, the southern plains langur (Semnopithecus dussumieri), but recent genetic research has declared this species invalid.
Like a bunch of street urchins, these northern plains langurs are sitting on a roof top in the city of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, from where they survey the surroundings for fruit or other edibles to steal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These langurs are resting in a pavilion near the sacred lake in Pushkar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Columbidae Pigeons and doves
Columba palumbus Wood pigeon
Previously, this species was a shy forest bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities, where it is now very common. This species is found all over Europe, the Middle East, and Morocco, with isolated populations in Central Asia and the western part of the Himalaya.
This wood pigeon is sitting on a house chimney on the island of Fanø, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The wood pigeon may be identified by the white patches on the hindneck and wings. This one takes off from a pole near Säby Läge, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spilopelia chinensis Spotted dove
This species, also called pearl-necked dove, is a pretty bird, distinguished by its pearl-like white spots on black background on the side of the neck. Formerly, it was included in the genus Streptopelia (turtle doves), but studies on vocalization, together with DNA analyses, led to the conclusion, that this species and its near relative, the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), differed sufficiently from the other Streptopelia species to form a separate genus.
The spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to China and Taiwan, thence southwards through the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The spotted dove is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. In this picture, a pair is sitting on the rail of an apartment balcony in a skyscraper in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spilopelia senegalensis Laughing dove
This small dove is widely distributed, found in much of northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East, eastwards to India. It is also found in Cyprus. In 1889, it was introduced to western Australia, where populations have been established in several locations. It lives in a variety of habitats, including semi-desert, scrubland, agricultural areas, and cities.
Other names include palm dove and Senegal dove, and in India it is known as little brown dove. The name laughing dove stems from its characteristic cooing, a low, drawn-out croo-doo-doo-doo-doo, somewhat reminiscent of a laughter. As mentioned above, its generic name has been changed from Streptopelia to Spilopelia.
In Dubai, where this picture was taken, laughing dove is a common city bird, showing no fear at all of passing pedestrians. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“That dove would make a perfect lunch!” – This cat was lying in wait for a laughing dove in Istanbul, Turkey, but missed it. The laughing dove is very common in this city. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvids, such as crows, rook, jackdaw, magpie, and various treepies, are intelligent birds, which were formerly living in more or less open landscapes. Today, however, many corvids have readily adapted to a life in cities. Seven species are presented below.
Coloeus monedula Eurasian jackdaw
This small corvid, which was previously named Corvus monedula, is ubiquitous in cities all over Europe. It is distributed from southern Finland and Scandinavia southwards to the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards to Central Asia. In eastern Siberia, Mongolia, and China, it is replaced by a near relative, the Daurian jackdaw (C. dauuricus), which may possibly be a race of the Eurasian jackdaw, as they often interbreed.
The specific name monedula is derived from the Latin moneta (‘coin’), thus named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), allegedly because this bird often picks up coins and other shining items.
Jackdaws, feeding on a lawn, Funen, Denmark. The plant with white flowers is common daisy (Bellis perennis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus corone ssp. cornix Hooded crow
As it is extensively hunted in most of its distribution area, the hooded crow is usually very wary of people, often fleeing at a considerable distance. In many cities, however, where hunting is banned, crows show little fear of people.
Around the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, crows show no fear at all of people, as these pictures clearly show. In the lower picture, a crow is trying to open a zipper on a baby carriage but must give up. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus frugilegus Rook
For hundreds of years, the rook, which breeds in colonies, has been much persecuted, as it was traditionally regarded as a pest which ate crops in the fields. However, it is an established fact that the rook also benefits the farmer through consuming lots of crane fly larvae and other harmful insects. Young rooks are much cherished as food, and lots of young are shot on the nests in spring.
During the last 30 to 40 years, many rooks have been moving from rural areas into towns and cities, where they are secure from hunters. However, they are also persecuted in many of these new breeding areas, as they are noisy and make a mess. As a result, the rook is diminishing in many areas.
Rooks are social birds, moving about in flocks. – Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rook, near Århus, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus macrorhynchos Large-billed crow
This bird often lives near human habitation. In former days, it was called jungle crow. This name also included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (Corvus culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii).
Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan in the west, across the Himalaya and Tibet to northern China, south-eastern Siberia, and Taiwan, southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Indian Subcontinent, it is generally found at higher elevations than the Indian jungle crow.
Large-billed crow, resting on a house roof in the town of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus splendens House crow
In its native area, viz. the Indian Subcontinent, southern Iran, and Myanmar, the house crow is an extremely common bird. During the last hundred years or so, it has spread to many cities in Asia and Africa, arriving as ‘blind passengers’ on board ships. It is also found in a few coastal towns of Europe and North America.
House crows, resting on a rail around the golden Lawkananda Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These house crows are inspecting the remains of butchered water buffaloes in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dendrocitta formosae Grey treepie
This bird, which is also called Himalayan treepie, is distributed along the foothills of the Himalaya, eastwards through montane areas of northern Indochina and southern China to Taiwan. In Taiwan, however, the nominate subspecies, formosae, lives almost down to sea level. In most areas, this bird is rather shy, but in Taiwan it has become accustomed to people, showing no fear at all.
Other pictures, depicting this species, may be seen on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Grey treepie, calling from the top of a street lamp pole, Taichung, Taiwan. (Foto copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This grey treepie is feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. – A collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, is shown on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pica pica Eurasian magpie
Divided into ten subspecies, the magpie is distributed from western Europe eastwards to Kamchatka, southwards to North Africa, Arabia, the Himalaya, and northern Indochina. Some authorities maintain that four of the subspecies are separate species.
The word pie is of Indo-European origin, meaning ‘pointed’, probably referring to the long, pointed tail. The prefix mag- dates from the 16th Century, a short form of the name Margaret, which was a term used for women in general. The call of the bird was likened to the chattering of women, and so it was called mag-pie. (Source: etymonline.com/word/magpie)
The noisy and garrulous ways of the magpie appear in a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the babbling and bumptious daughters of Pieros dare to challenge the Muses in a song contest, which they, naturally, lose, causing them to hurl abuse at the winners. The leading Muse, Calliope, then says:
“Seeing that you deserve punishment enough for your challenge,
And now add profanities to your offence,
And since our patience is not unlimited,
We will move on to sentence you,
And follow where anger prompts us.
The Emathides [daughters of Pieros] laughed and ridiculed these threatening words,
But as they tried to speak, and attack us with insolent hands,
Making a great clamour,
They saw feathers spring from under their nails,
And plumage cover their arms. Each one saw
The next one’s mouth harden to a solid beak,
And a new bird enters the trees.
When they wanted to beat their breasts in sorrow,
They hung in the air, lifted by the movement of their arms,
Magpies now, the slanderers of the woods.
Even now, as birds, their former eloquence remains,
Their raucous garrulity, and their monstrous capacity for chatter.”
Like the hooded crow, the magpie was formerly a shy bird, fleeing from people at a long distance. Today, however, it is a common breeding bird in cities, where, under normal circumstances, people do not constitute a danger to the birds.
Magpie, resting on a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young magpie is sitting on the rail of a foot bridge across a canal in Copenhagen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Magpie nest, built in a silver birch (Betula pendula) with thousands of catkins. – Copenhagen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gekko gecko Tokay gecko
This species is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia. In the United States, it has been introduced to the Florida Keys, where it has become invasive. It is easily identified by its loud call, rendered as geck-oo or tuc-too.
In Chinese medicine, tokay geckos are used for various ailments and diseases, including stroke, paralysis, arthritis, impotence, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, nocturnal urination, and emaciation. New research has shown that it has a positive effect on malignant tumours, especially in the digestive system. Today, the species is threatened due to over-collection and habitat loss.
Formerly, in China, a number of superstitions were related to the tokay gecko. It was believed that its urine was deadly poisonous. If a pregnant woman consumed it, she was certain to deliver a boy. As tokay geckos mate for a very long time, it was believed that consuming them would cure impotency.
In Southeast Asia, the tokay gecko is often encountered in houses, as in this picture from the island of Mindoro, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tokay geckos, conserved in alcohol, displayed for sale in a shop in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Geckos of this genus are often called house geckos, as many of the species have adapted to a life inside houses. They are native to most tropical areas of the world, and a few species are also found in subtropical parts of Europe and Africa. Presently, about 90 species are known, with new species being described every few years.
House gecko, sitting on a house wall, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hirundinidae Swallows and martins
Hirundo javanica House swallow
Previously, one of the common swallows of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan was regarded as belonging to the widespread Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica). However, 7 subspecies from these areas have recently been split to form a separate species, the house swallow. (Source: hbw.com/species/house-swallow-hirundo-javanica)
This species can be told from the barn swallow (below) by its shorter outer tail feathers, the greyish, checkered vent, and lack of black breast band.
House swallows readily nest in cities. Subspecies namiyei is common in the lowlands of Taiwan, and is also found on the Ryukyu Islands, southern Japan. This bird was observed in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hirundo rustica Barn swallow
This bird is the most widespread swallow in the world. It mainly nests on or inside buildings, very often in stables or barns – hence its name. Six subspecies are spread across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles eastwards to Japan, and from northern Norway, central Siberia, and Kamchatka southwards to North Africa, Egypt, southern Iran, and southern China, and in most of North America, from northern Canada southwards to southern Mexico. Four of the subspecies are migratory, spending the winter as far south as South Africa, northern Australia, and Argentina. The birds may be seen year-round in southern Mexico, southern Iberian Peninsula, Egypt, the Himalaya, southern China, and Taiwan.
Subspecies gutturalis is a common summer visitor in Taiwanese cities, and some birds are resident. The pictures below all show this subspecies.
Barn swallows, Taichung. In the lower picture, the bird is sitting on a door lamp. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nesting barn swallow, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This nest, containing two almost full-grown young, is resting on a wire on a house wall in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Barn swallows, feeding over a lawn, being watered, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shrikes are a group of striking passerines, which perch on trees, bushes, poles, or wires, scanning the surroundings for small prey, such as beetles, dragonflies, bees, lizards, and mice, sometimes impaling them on thorns to be consumed later. Five species of the genus Lanius (true shrikes) have been observed in Taiwan. The generic name is from the Latin lanio (‘butcher’), referring to their food-storing habit.
Lanius cristatus Brown shrike
Altogether four subspecies of this bird have been described. They breed over much of eastern Asia, in most of Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan, spending the winter in Tropical Asia. Further west, it is replaced by two sister species, the red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) and the isabelline shrike (L. isabellinus).
The pictures below are from Taiwan, where subspecies lucionensis is a common migrant and winter visitor.
Male brown shrike, resting on a concrete pillar in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This immature bird was photographed in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Laridae Gulls and terns
Previously, the majority of the World’s gulls were breeding in wetlands, and they were rather shy of people. During the last 50 years, however, many gull species have readily adapted to a life in cities, often breeding on house roofs, and eating mainly garbage.
Chroicocephalus ridibundus Black-headed gull
In former days, this small species was very common in most of Europe, but has declined drastically during the last 30 to 40 years. It often breeds in city parks, but not on house roofs.
Black-headed gulls, resting on a pleasure boat in a harbour, central Jutland, Denmark. The bird in front is wearing a numbered plastic ring. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus argentatus Herring gull
Previously, the herring gull was regarded as being a circumpolar species, divided into a number of subspecies. Today, however, it has been split into several species, and the herring gull proper is restricted to north-western Europe, from Iceland, northern Norway and north-western Russia, southwards along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the Atlantic Sea, to southern France.
In later years, numbers of European herring gulls have increased significantly in cities, where the birds place their nest on top of high-rise buildings.
The following birds, which are now regarded as full species, were formerly treated as subspecies of the herring gull: western yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) (see below), Caspian gull (L. cachinnans), Armenian gull (L. armenicus), Vega gull (L. vegae) (see below), and American herring gull (L. smithsonianus).
Herring gulls, feeding on scraps from a fishing vessel, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This herring gull is waiting for tidbits beside a fisherman, who is gutting fish in the harbour of Kerteminde, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus canus Common gull
This species has a very wide distribution, from Ireland and Scotland eastwards through the Siberian taiga belt to Alaska and western Canada. It mostly breeds on the ground in coastal regions and lakes, but may occasionally build its nest on roofs or in trees. It resembles the herring gull, but is smaller and has a narrow red eye-ring, and greenish-yellow bill without a red dot. The European and Russian subspecies also have dark eyes.
A pair of common gulls have established their nest on a building at Alvesta Railway Station, Kronobergs Län, Sweden. In the two lower pictures, the male mates with the female, who remains lying on the nest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus michahellis Western yellow-legged gull
This species is found in the Mediterranean Sea. It resembles the herring gull, but can be identified by its yellow legs and very powerful beak. This bird is extremely common in Istanbul, Turkey, where these pictures were taken. In this city, it often breeds on house roofs, and if a window is left open, it may enter to search for edibles.
Western yellow-legged gull with chicks in its nest, which is placed on a house roof. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This narcissistic western yellow-legged gull is gazing at its reflection in a window pane. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Western yellow-legged gull, drinking from a fountain, oblivious of the courting couple in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“Get lost! This is my lamp!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This western yellow-legged gull has just killed a domestic pigeon and is now eating it on a roof top. It shows a threatening attitude towards an intruding hooded crow (Corvus corone ssp. cornix), which is very interested in the kill. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus vegae Vega gull
Previously, the Vega gull was treated as a subspecies of the herring gull, but is today regarded as a separate species. It is distributed in north-eastern Siberia, from the Lena River eastwards to the Bering Sea.
Vega gulls, resting on the roof of a shed in Anadyr Airport City, Chukotka Peninsula. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Motacillidae Wagtails and pipits
Motacilla alba White wagtail
Altogether eleven subspecies of this bird breed from eastern Greenland eastwards across Europe and Siberia to Alaska, southwards to Morocco, Iran, the Himalaya, and Taiwan.
The nominate race, alba, is found in eastern Greenland, Iceland, and the entire Europe, apart from the British Isles, and further east, almost to the Ural Mountains. In the British Isles, it is replaced by the race yarrellii, in Morocco by subpersonata, and in the Ural Mountains, southwards to the Caspian Sea, by dukhunensis. In Siberia and western Alaska, the race ocularis is breeding, in Iran persica, in the western part of Central Asia personata, in Central Asia baicalensis, in the Himalaya alboides, in China, Korea and Taiwan leucopsis, and in Japan, Sakhalin and Kamchatka lugens. Many of the northern races are migratory, whereas southernmost are resident.
The white wagtail is confiding, often breeding in buildings.
Male of the nominate race of white wagtail, ssp. alba, photographed on the island of Christiansø, Bornholm, Denmark. Red roof tiles are seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male of the nominate race, sitting on the roof of a lighthouse building at the northern tip of Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Amur wagtail, ssp. leucopsis, sitting on a concrete wall along a river in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Himalayan wagtail, ssp. alboides, sitting on a dilapidated wall in Hutiao Xia (Tiger Leaping Gorge), Jinsha River, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male masked wagtail, ssp. personata, stretching a wing on a boat, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Motacilla cinerea Grey wagtail
The grey wagtail is distributed over a huge area, breeding in most of Europe, Morocco, the Middle East, the Himalaya, Siberia, Central Asia, China, Japan, and Taiwan. Northern populations spend the winter further south, in Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia.
In Taiwan, where subspecies melanope breeds in the lower hills, it is common in winter along streams and canals, also in cities. This bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Muridae Old World mice and rats
Rattus rattus Black rat
The black rat originated in Asia, probably India or Southeast Asia. Later, it spread to the Near East and Egypt, and then throughout the Roman Empire. Research indicates that it reached Britain as early as the 1st Century A.D., and when Europeans began emigrating, it was spread to almost all parts of the world.
Formerly, the black rat was a serious pest, consuming huge amounts of cereals and other food items. Furthermore, it spread various diseases among humans. During the Middle Ages, rat fleas were carrying bubonic plague, which in some places reduced the human population by 50 to 75%. This much feared disease was aptly named The Black Death.
The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) spread throughout the world at a later stage than the black rat. It is a much stronger and more adaptable species, and the black rat has now been expelled from many of its former strongholds by its more aggressive sister species
In the town of Deshnok, Rajasthan, north-western India, a local goddess, Karna Mata, is regarded as an incarnation of the great Hindu goddess Durga (see Religion: Hinduism). Her followers believe that if you are reborn as a rat, you escape the wrath of Yama, the God of Death. For this reason, rats are sacred, and pilgrims feed them in temples.
The Karna Mata Mandir Temple in Deshnok holds a horde of black rats. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Passer domesticus House sparrow
In later years, the house sparrow has declined drastically in large parts of Europe, whereas it is very common in the United States, where it was introduced several times between 1851 and 1875, and in New Zealand, where it was introduced around 1865. In both countries, it was thought that the sparrows would be able to control populations of harmful insects in cereal crops. However, they only catch insects when feeding their young, whereas the rest of the year they eat the very crops they were supposed to protect. However, as early as the 1880s, the sparrow itself was regarded as a pest in New Zealand, and in North America, it is considered a serious crop raider in large parts of the continent.
Male house sparrow, sitting on a roof, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hand-feeding house sparrows in St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
House sparrows at a roadside restaurant, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Passer montanus Tree sparrow
This bird, which is a close relative of the house sparrow, has a huge distribution, found from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.
The pictures below are from Taiwan, where the tree sparrow is very common and has taken over the role of the house sparrow as a city bird, as the latter is not found in Taiwan.
This flock of tree sparrows is sitting on plastic dividers on the roof of a greenhouse in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree sparrows, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. – A collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, is found on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This tree sparrow is sitting on a sculpture in a Daoist temple, depicting a dragon, Taichung. – Dragons and other aspects of Daoism are dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Podiceps cristatus Great crested grebe
This bird has a very wide distribution, found from the British Isles and the Mediterranean, across temperate regions of Eurasia eastwards to China. Furthermore, it has isolated populations in southern Africa and in Australia. In many European countries, it has adapted to a life in harbours.
Great crested grebe in the harbour of the town Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pycnonotus sinensis Light-vented bulbul
This species, also called Chinese bulbul, is distributed from central China southwards to Vietnam, and eastwards to Japan and Taiwan. This species is one of the commonest birds in Taiwan, living in a wide variety of habitats, such as secondary forest, farmland, parks, gardens, and even city areas with scant vegetation.
This bird and other bulbuls are described in detail on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Light-vented bulbul, surveying its surroundings from the top of a white leadtree (Leucaena leucocephala), Taichung, Taiwan. – This tree is presented on the page Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This light-vented bulbul is enjoying the morning sun, sitting on the rail of a balcony in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rallidae Coots, rails, crakes, and allies
Fulica atra Eurasian coot
As a breeding bird, the black coot is widely distributed across Temperate Eurasia, eastwards to Japan, and in north-western Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, New Guinea, and Australia. Siberian populations are migratory, whereas African, Indian, Australian, and most European birds are resident. Very similar species are found in the Iberian Peninsula, Africa, the Americas, and Hawaii.
In many places, the Eurasian coot has adapted to a life in cities. This bird in Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland, has built a nest in a canal, made from twigs, water plants, and plastic bags. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In cities, especially city parks, squirrels often become very tame. These pictures show three examples.
Callosciurus erythraeus ssp. taiwanensis Taiwan squirrel
This squirrel, which is ubiquitous in the lowlands of Taiwan, is a subspecies of the widespread red-bellied squirrel, which is distributed from eastern Nepal, Bhutan, and north-eastern India eastwards to Southeast Asia, southern China, and Taiwan.
In the pictures below, and in a picture on top of this page, Taiwan squirrels are feeding on food, put out for birds, near the Confucius Temple, Tainan, southern Taiwan. This has caused these otherwise rather shy squirrels to have become remarkably tame.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Taiwan squirrel is eating bark of a blackboard tree (Alstonia scholaris), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Funambulus pennantii Five-striped palm-squirrel
This species is native to south-eastern Iran and to the Indian Subcontinent, southwards to the state of Karnataka. It is very common in North Indian cities, even metropoles like Delhi and Kolkata. It has also been introduced to New Guinea and to many Pacific islands, and a population is found in the city of Perth, Australia, established from zoo escapes.
The five-striped palm-squirrel is ubiquitous in North Indian cities. This picture is from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sciurus carolinensis Eastern grey squirrel
This is the most widespread squirrel in North America, and it has also been successfully introduced to South Africa, Britain, and other places. In Britain, it has become a pest, as it competes with the native European red squirrel (S. vulgaris), which is now scarce south of Scotland.
This squirrel, as well as many other North American squirrels, are presented in detail on the page Animals: Squirrels of North America.
This man is feeding an eastern grey squirrel, as well as feral pigeons, in Kew Botanical Gardens, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sturnidae Starlings and mynas
Acridotheres ginginianus Bank myna
The smallish bank myna is restricted to the Indian Subcontinent, from the Indus Valley eastwards to the Ganges delta, and from the foothills of the Himalaya, southwards almost to the southern tip of India. The original habitat of this bird was open country, but it has adapted to a life in cities, where it is often observed along rivers, in markets, in railway stations, and even in airports. It has been introduced elsewhere and has formed feral populations a number of places, including Kuwait, the Maldives, Taiwan, and Japan.
The bank myna is similar to the common myna (A. tristis, below), but is a bit smaller, its plumage is more greyish, and the bare skin around the eye is orange rather than yellow.
The pictures below were all taken on the banks of the Ganges River, Varanasi.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bird to the left in this picture had escaped from captivity. The string, which was used to attach the tiny bells to its leg, was tied to tightly, causing the leg to swell, but it didn’t seem to bother the bird too much. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bank myna is preening by taking ants in its bill, gleaning its feathers with them. Presumably, the purpose of this behaviour is to kill pests with the formic acid. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Acridotheres tristis Common myna
This bird, also called Indian myna, is native to Asia, distributed from Turkmenistan and eastern Iran eastwards across the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia to south-western China, and thence southwards to Singapore. Escaped cage birds have established populations in numerous other countries, including South Africa, Madagascar, several Arabian states, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
The common myna was originally a woodland bird, but has adapted very well to agricultural as well as urban environments. In many places, it has become a pest, which expels native birds, especially in Australia, where it has been called “a most important problem”. The IUCN Species Survival Commission has declared it one of the world’s most invasive species and a threat to “biodiversity, agriculture, and human interests”.
Common mynas, resting on electric wires, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gracupica contra Asian pied starling
This colourful bird, which was formerly known as the pied myna (Sturnus contra), is native to the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It lives mainly in lowlands, but may be found up to an altitude of c. 700 m. In later years, it has been expanding and is now found in Pakistan, Sumatra, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The population in the latter country was established from escaped cage birds.
Asian pied starling, feeding among washed-up marigold garlands, which have been brought as an offering to the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi, India. – The important role of the Ganges River to Hindus is related on the page Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Dubai, where this picture was taken, Asian pied starling has established a population from escaped cage birds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Turdus merula Blackbird
The black plumage of the male blackbird has given rise to its name. Until about the 17th century, another name of this thrush was ouzel, or wosel, from Old English osle. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the weaver Nick Bottom sings:
The woosell cocke, so blacke of hew,
With orenge-tawny bill,
The throstle, with his note so true,
The wren and little quill.
Formerly, the blackbird was a shy forest bird, but in the last hundred years or so, it has spread to virtually all urban areas in Europe, today being one of the most common city birds. It is distributed across Europe and the Middle East, eastwards to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and it has also been introduced to Australia and New Zealand.
The blackbird and other thrushes are described in depth on the page Animals: Thrushes.
Male blackbird, preening on a house roof, Funen, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Amaranthaceae Amaranth family
Amaranthus viridis Slender amaranth
The native area of this species, which is also known as green amaranth, is unknown, and today it is distributed in all warmer areas of the world.
Leaves, as well as seeds, are eaten in many parts of the world. In Australia, this plant was also a source of food during the 19th Century. In 1889, botanist Joseph Maiden (1859-1925) wrote: “It is an excellent substitute for spinach, being far superior to much of the leaves of the white beet sold for spinach in Sydney. Next to spinach it seems to be most like boiled nettle leaves, which when young are used in England, and are excellent. This amarantus should be cooked like spinach, and as it becomes more widely known, it is sure to be popular, except amongst persons who may consider it beneath their dignity to have anything to do with so common a weed.” (Source: T. Low, 1985. Wild Herbs of Australia & New Zealand. Angus & Robertson)
In India, slender amaranth is utilized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
In Taiwan, slender amaranth is very common in cities, especially in fallow areas, and along roads and embankments. These pictures are from Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Celosia argentea Silver cockscomb
Like the slender amaranth, the native area of this species, also called feathery amaranth, is unknown, and today it is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is regarded as an invasive plant in numerous countries, including India, Japan, Ecuador (Galapagos Islands), Fiji, Taiwan, and the United States.
Silver cockscomb is described in depth on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Silver cockscomb is abundant in Taiwan, also in cities, where it often grows in abandoned plots, in this case in Taichung. Downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), likewise an invasive species, is also seen in the picture, described below at Asteraceae. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In this picture, silver cockscomb completely covers the bottom of a drainage canal in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Silver cockscomb, growing in an abandoned parking lot, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anacardiaceae Sumac family
Sumacs are a genus of c. 35 species, distributed in subtropical and temperate areas, especially around the Mediterranean, and in Asia, Australia, and North America. Other species, which were formerly placed in Rhus, have now been transferred to the genus Searsia, others to Toxicodendron, including poison ivy and poison oak, described on the page Nature: Autumn.
The word sumac is derived from Ancient Syriac summaq (‘red’), referring to the red fruits of the genus. They have an acrid taste and are used as a spice. In North America, the fruits of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) are soaked in cold water to make ‘pink lemonade’, a refreshing beverage, rich in vitamin C.
Rhus coriaria Elm-leaved sumac
This species is also known by other names, including tanner’s sumac and Sicilian sumac. It is native to areas around the Mediterranean, eastwards to Iran. The dried fruits are crushed and used as a spice, which, together with other spices, form a mixture called za’atar. Leaves and bark contain tannic acid and were formerly used in leather tanning, hence the specific name, of the Latin coriarium (‘leather’, ‘tanning’). Various parts of the plant yield red, yellow, black, and brown dyes. Oil from the seeds are utilized to make candles.
Elm-leaved sumac is very common in Turkey. This one has taken root on the wall of an abandoned house in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aegopodium podagraria Goutweed
As far back as Ancient Rome, and throughout the Middle Ages, young leaves of goutweed were utilized as a vegetable, much as spinach is used. The generic name is from the Greek aix, genitive aigos (’goat’), and podion, diminutive of pous (’foot’), thus ‘little goat-foot’), referring to the shape of the leaves. According to the Doctrine of Signatures, Our Lord had shaped the plants, so that humans were able to discover what ailments they could be used for. Therefore, goutweed must be an effective remedy for gout. Medicinally, however, there is no basis for this assertion. It was also used as a laxative.
Goutweed is native to southern Europe and western Asia, but was introduced as a garden plant to northern Europe as early as the Middle Ages. It has also been accidentally introduced to North America, and almost everywhere it has become a most annoying garden weed.
In this picture, goutweed is growing out through a beech hedge alongside a pavement. – Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Goutweed as a garden weed, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A huge, worldwide genus, counting between 200 and 400 species. Besides mugwort, common names of these plants include wormwood and sagebrush. The genus is presented in depth on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry. A picture, depicting lance-leaved mugwort (A. lancea), may be seen at Ixeridium laevigatum (below).
Artemisia vulgaris Common mugwort
This plant is native to the major part of Temperate Europe and Asia, and also to North Africa and Alaska. In other areas of North America, it has become naturalized. Originally, this species was restricted to dry grasslands and sandy beaches, but when farming was introduced, it readily spread to fields, and today it is regarded as a noxious weed. In China, this species is sometimes used as a substitute for Artemisia argyii to make moxa, which is much utilized as a healer in traditional Chinese medicine.
Common mugwort, growing near a canal in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bidens pilosa Downy bur-marigold
This pan-tropical and -subtropical weed, of unknown origin, has become a pest in numerous places, expelling native species. One isolated plant can produce over 30,000 hooked seeds, which are readily spread by sticking to animals’ furs, socks, trousers, etc. This way of seed dispersal has given it names like beggar-ticks, stickseed, farmer’s friend (ironic!), needle grass, Spanish needles, stick-tight, cobbler’s pegs, Devil’s needles, and Devil’s pitchfork. Other names include blackjack and hairy bidens.
A South African website, farmersweekly.co.za/animals/horses/beware-those-blackjacks, says: “The common blackjack is not only an irritant to horses, (but) can cause them injury. (…) There can be few of us who have not spent ages picking them off our clothes after walking through the veld to catch horses in the early winter. Blackjacks that become entangled in the forelock of a horse can be a great irritant, and the animal will toss its head, if you try to remove them. The spines can injure the eyes, so it’s better to clip the forelocks short. Blackjacks can also get caught up in the long hair behind the fetlocks and pasterns, causing chronic irritation and lameness.”
This species is reported to be a weed of 31 crops in more than 40 countries, Latin America and eastern Africa having the worst infestations. (Source: cabi.org/isc/datasheet/9148)
However, downy bur-marigold is not only a troublesome weed, but also has medicinal properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used for a large number of ailments, including influenza, colds, fever, sore throat, appendicitis, hepatitis, malaria, and haemorrhoids. Due to its high content of fiber, it is beneficial to the cardiovascular system, and it has been used with success in treatment of diabetes.
The pictures below are all from Taiwan, where downy bur-marigold is extremely common, often covering huge areas. It is also very common in cities, popping up everywhere, as is obvious from the pictures below.
This downy bur-marigold has sprouted in a drainage canal in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is growing up a fence in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Here, a specimen has taken root between two road dividers, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This picture from Taichung shows the characteristic fruits of downy bur-marigold. The hooked seeds will cling to almost anything. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This genus contains c. 115 species, distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and Asia.
Emilia sonchifolia Lilac tasselflower
Lilac tasselflower may grow to 70 cm tall, but is often much smaller. This species is also known as Cupid’s shaving brush, named for Cupid, the Roman god of desire, eroticism, and affection, alluding to the tiny flowerheads, which resemble miniature shaving brushes. This plant is probably native to South and East Asia, but is today widespread in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
The specific name is derived from the Greek sonchos, the ancient name for sow-thistles, and the Latin folium (‘leaf’). The leaves of this plant often resemble those of Sonchus oleraceus (see below). However, they vary tremendously, from lyrate and pinnatifid to almost entire.
Lilac tasselflower, photographed in Taiwan, where this species is very common, also in cities, in this case Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Erigeron canadensis Horsetail fleabane
This plant, also known as Canadian fleabane, and in Latin Conyza canadensis, is native to North America and parts of Central America, but has been accidentally introduced to large parts of the world. In many places it has become a serious pest, especially in Europe and Australia, but also in its native North America. It prefers to grow in undisturbed areas and is particularly troublesome in newly established plantations, where it is able to resist herbicides, growing to 3 m tall, thus depriving planted species of nutrients and sunlight.
This plant contains an oil with a turpentine-like smell, which, supposedly, should deter fleas, hence its common name. Another popular name is bloodstanch, given by herbalists, who claim that an extract from leaves and flowers arrests haemorrhages from the lungs and alimentary tract.
Horsetail fleabane, growing along a street in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This horsetail fleabane, which was found in a graveyard in Taichung, is almost 2 m tall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gnaphalium uliginosum Marsh cudweed
Marsh cudweed, sometimes called brown cudweed, is native to Europe and northern Asia, and it has been accidentally introduced in North America, where it is found in the northern half of the continent. The natural habitat of this plant is humid areas, such as water-logged fields, but it is also able to thrive in drier areas, including city streets. In Russia, it has been used in folk medicine to treat high blood pressure.
Marsh cudweed (the greyish-green plants), growing among cobble stones on a sidewalk, Jutland, Denmark, together with annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) and greater plantain (Plantago major, see Plantaginaceae below). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ixeris chinensis Rabbit milkweed
Youngia japonica Oriental false hawksbeard
These three species, which are native to eastern Asia, are quite similar, having small yellow flowerheads and more or less flat leaves.
Rabbit milkweed is easily identified by its mostly linear, rather narrow leaves and pale yellow flowerheads, which are up to 2 cm across. This species is very common in all types of open areas, such as grasslands, forest margins, shrublands, riverbanks, field margins, wastelands, and roadsides.
As these pictures show, rabbit milkweed may sprout in small cracks in roads and sidewalks, and along house walls. – Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The basal leaves of Ixeridium laevigatum are very variable, mostly with rather large lobes, but sometimes being almost entire, whereas the stem leaves are mostly linear and rather narrow. The flowerheads are up to 1 cm across. In Taiwan, this species is very common in urban areas.
Ixeridium laevigatum, growing beneath a tree on a sidewalk in Taichung, together with lance-leaved mugwort (Artemisia lancea). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The stem of Oriental false hawksbeard, also called Japanese hawksbeard, is usually tall, erect, and unbranched, with numerous small flowerheads, to 8 mm across, at the top. Its basal leaves are quite broad, more or less hairy, and mostly deeply lobed or pinnately divided. Today, this species has spread to most warmer areas of the world.
Oriental false hawksbeard thrives under tree cover, and in cities it is mostly found in parks. In the upper picture, it forms a large growth in Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Matricaria discoidea Disc mayweed
Disc mayweed is native to North America and north-eastern Asia, southwards to Hokkaido, Japan. Today, however, it has been accidentally introduced to most other areas of the world, where it is a common weed, growing in open areas. Other names of the plant are wild chamomile and pineapple weed, due to its chamomile- or pineapple-like smell, when crushed.
Disc mayweed, growing in a crack along a gutter, Jutland, Denmark. The white object is a bird feather. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This genus, popularly called squarestems, contains about 37 species, native to Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The generic name is from the Greek melas (‘black’, ‘dark’), and anthos (‘flower’), in this case referring to the black anthers of this genus.
This creeping plant, which was formerly named Wedelia prostrata, has tiny yellow flowerheads. It is native to Japan, Korea, southern China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, where its original habitats are dunes and sandy seashores. However, it has adapted to other places, including roadsides and grassy areas.
In Taiwan, Melanthera prostrata is a common city plant, often growing in cracks along sidewalks. These were photographed in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A large growth of Melanthera prostrata, climbing up a long-term parked bicycle, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Members of this American genus, which contains about 12 species, are commonly known as feverfew, not to be confused with an Old World plant with the same name, Tanacetum parthenium, which is presented on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry. The generic name is a Latinized version of the Greek parthenos (‘virgin’), or maybe parthenion, which is an ancient Greek name for a plant.
Parthenium hysterophorus Santa Maria feverfew
The leaves of this plant, which may grow to a height of about 120 cm, very much resemble those of some species of Artemisia (see above), but its flowerheads are more flattened, and pure white. In America, it has a number of other names, including bitterweed, carrot grass, congress grass, false chamomile, false ragweed, and white-top.
Santa Maria feverfew is native to large parts of the Americas, from southern United States southwards to Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America. However, it has been spread to virtually all warmer areas of the world and has become naturalized in many places, ranging from fields and grasslands to roadsides, fallow plots, and along railroads, usually below 1,500 m altitude. It is regarded as an invasive in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
The specific name is from the Greek hustera (‘womb’) and phoros (‘bearing’), maybe alluding to the shape of the flowerheads.
This plant should be handled with caution, as it may cause dermatitis and respiratory malfunction in humans, and, if eaten by livestock, it may cause udder disease.
In these pictures, Santa Maria feverfew grows along busy streets in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sonchus oleraceus Common sow-thistle
This species is native to Europe and western Asia, but has been spread to most other areas of the world. It is regarded as an invasive plant in many countries, including Australia, where it is a serious problem in crops. It is easily identified by its slightly prickly, deeply divided leaves.
The generic name is a Latinized form of the Greek sonchos, the ancient name for sow-thistles, whereas the specific name is derived from the Latin oleris, meaning ‘edible’. Young leaves can be eaten as salad or cooked like spinach. The common name refers to the fact that pigs like to eat this plant, and to the leaves, which resemble young thistle leaves.
Common sow-thistle is very common in Taiwan. This picture shows a large growth in the city of Taichung. The white flowers are downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), see Asteraceae above. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common sow-thistle, growing in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This common sow-thistle has taken root along a house wall in the town of Rønne, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Dandelion is ubiquitous in Europe, including in cities, where it readily grows in cracks and between flagstones. It is dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
In these pictures from Copenhagen, Denmark, dandelion grows among wood chips, strewn along a street (top), and outside the Carlsberg Breweries. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tridax procumbens Lantern tridax
This small composite, which is native to Tropical America, has been introduced to most warmer areas of the world and has become naturalized in many places.
Lantern tridax is extremely common in Taiwanese cities. In this picture, a large growth has sprouted in an abandoned parking lot in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
See Ixeris chinensis (above).
Blechnaceae Chain fern family
Blechnum orientale Oriental hard fern
This large fern, with fronds sometimes reaching a length of 2 m, is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to southern China, Taiwan, and southern Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to New Guinea, Australia, and islands in the western Pacific. Elsewhere, it is cultivated as an ornamental, and plants are sometimes harvested from the wild to be used for food or medicine.
This oriental hard fern is clinging to a crack in a wall along a drainage canal, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Brassicaceae Mustard family
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s-purse
Shepherd’s-purse, which is native to western Asia and Europe, has become naturalized almost worldwide in temperate and subtropical areas. It is also called shepherd’s bag, shepherd’s scrip, shepherd’s sprout, lady’s purse, witches’ pouches, rattle pouches, case-weed, pick-pocket, pick-purse, blindweed, pepper-and-salt, poor man’s pharmacettie, and mother’s heart. Most of these names, as well as the specific name, refer to the shape of the fruits, or siliques, which are flat and triangular, resembling an old-fashioned bag or purse.
An Irish name of the species, clappedepouch, refers to the long-stalked siliques. This name was given in allusion to the begging of lepers, who would ring a bell, or a clapper, receiving their alms in a cup at the end of a long pole, to avoid people being infected.
The medical usage of this species is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Shepherd’s-purse, growing in a crack along a sidewalk in Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large growth of shepherd’s-purse in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lepidium virginicum Virginian peppercress
The common names of this species, which is also known as least pepperwort, stem from the fact that all parts of this plant have a peppery taste. It is a native of North America, from southern Canada southwards to Mexico, but has been widely introduced to many other countries. It grows in open, drier places, and has readily adapted to a life in cities.
This Virginian peppercress has sprouted in a crack in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Caryophyllaceae Carnation family
Sagina procumbens Procumbent pearlwort
Spergularia rubra Red sand-spurrey
These small plants are native to Europe and Northern Asia, but have been accidentally spread to many other parts of the world. They are common weeds in fallow fields and along roads, and both have adapted to a life in cities.
In this picture from the town of Gudhjem, Bornholm, Denmark, red sand-spurrey (left) and procumbent pearlwort are growing in a crack on a sidewalk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Commelinaceae Dayflower family
This genus has anywhere between 100 and 170 species, found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. These plants are called dayflowers due to their flowers, which usually only live for one day. When Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, named this genus, he let the two showy blue petals of Commelina communis represent two Dutch botanists, Jan Commelijn and his nephew Caspar, whom he wished to honour.
Commelina communis Asiatic dayflower
This species is native to large parts of eastern Asia, from Ussuriland, south-eastern Russia, southwards through China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to the northern part of Southeast Asia and extreme eastern India. It has also been introduced to western Russia, south-eastern Europe, and eastern North America, where it has become invasive in several places. In Chinese traditional medicine, the dried plant is utilized to treat a number of ailments, including sore throat, colds, oedema, bruises, and limited urination. A near relative, Commelina benghalensis, is eaten as a vegetable in Southeast Asia and Africa.
In this picture, and in a picture on top of this page, Asiatic dayflower is growing along a house wall in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Asiatic dayflower is growing up through the wheels of long-term parked bicycles, Taichung. The plant to the right is paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), presented below, see Moraceae. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Convolvulaceae Morning-glory family
Ipomoea cairica Railroad creeper
This climber has many other common names, including coast morning-glory and mile-a-minute vine. It is believed to be a native of Tropical Africa, but is today very widely distributed in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. It is capable of very rapid growth, sometimes completely entwining trees and bushes, but is also able to creep along the ground. It is regarded as an invasive in many areas, including eastern Australia, southern China, and Taiwan.
Railroad creeper is extremely common in Taiwan. These pictures, and one on top of this page, are all from Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ipomoea obscura Obscure morning-glory
This species, also called small white morning-glory, can be identified by its small, heart-shaped leaves and the 2-3 cm wide, white flowers with a brownish throat. This species is native to the southern half of Africa, tropical Asia, northern Australia, and some Pacific Islands, including Fiji, and has been introduced elsewhere as an ornamental, or accidentally.
Other members of the morning-glory family are presented on the page Plants: Morning-glories and bindweeds.
Obscure morning-glory is quite common in Taiwanese cities. These pictures are from Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This ‘long-term’ parked car in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, has been overgrown by various plants, including obscure morning-glory, and also a climber of the pea family with chocolate-brown flowers, and the white-flowered downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa, see Asteraceae above). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Crassulaceae Stonecrop family
This family, also called the orpine family, includes c. 35 genera with about 1,400 species. It is found worldwide, with the greatest diversity in the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa. It is characterized by plants with succulent leaves – an adaptation to growing in dry areas with little water.
Sedum acre Biting stonecrop
Biting stonecrop was named due to the bitter, peppery taste of its leaves, caused by their content of slightly toxic alkaloids. It is also known by a number of other common names, including mossy stonecrop, goldmoss stonecrop, and wall pepper. This species is native to Europe, Turkey, and northern Africa, and has also become naturalized in other countries, including United States, Japan, and New Zealand.
Most stonecrops are creeping plants, which grow in dry areas, such as in sand, among scree, or on rocks. The genus Sedum, which counts about 470 species, is mainly distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, but is also found in southern Africa and in South America.
Biting stonecrop, growing in a crack between granite steps in the town of Rønne, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cucurbitaceae Cucumber family
Luffa acutangula Angled luffa
This plant has many other common names, including ridged gourd and sponge gourd. It is a native of Tropical Asia, where it is also widely cultivated. Young fruits are cooked as a vegetable, or pickled, and the fibres inside mature fruits are used as a sponge or for making hats. The species is also utilized in traditional folk medicine. The seeds are emetic and purgative, and they are eaten to expel intestinal worms. Fruit and seeds are also used in treatment of venereal diseases, especially gonorrhea.
From vegetable gardens in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, these cultivated angled luffas have climbed up fences. In the lower two pictures, several plants have climbed so high, that they could not be harvested, allowing them to produce mature fruits and spread their seeds. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Euphorbiaceae Spurge family
Ricinus communis Castor oil plant
The castor oil plant, which is probably indigenous to the Middle East and north-eastern Africa, has been widely cultivated elsewhere for thousands of years. Today, it is a widespread weed in almost all tropical and subtropical countries.
The generic name is Latin, meaning ‘tick’, referring to the seed, which resembles certain species of ticks. Another common name of this plant is Palm of Christ, which refers to the ability of its oil to heal wounds and cure various ailments.
The medical properties of castor oil plant are described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where this species is extremely common in the lowlands, often invading fallow plots in cities.
This castor oil plant, which shows the red female flowers above and the white male flowers below, has taken root in a crack in the concrete wall along a rainwater drainage canal in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This specimen, with ripe fruits, grows in an abandoned plot in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Geraniaceae Crane’s-bill family
A genus with about 60 species, which are native to Europe, especially areas around the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards through the Middle East to Central Asia, and also to southern North America, and Australia. In Europe, these plants are known as stork’s-bills, whereas they are called filarees or heron’s bills in North America.
These names all refer to the shape of the fruit. The ripe fruit splits into five segments, each with a long, spirally twisting style, with a seed attached at the base. As the style twists, it is able to drill the seed into the soil.
Erodium cicutarium Common stork’s-bill
This plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Temperate Asia, but has been accidentally introduced to many parts of the world, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Chile. In many places, it is considered a noxious weed, as it is most proliferate, readily outcompeting native plant species and crops.
Common storksbill, growing at a house wall, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Malvaceae Mallow family
Malva sylvestris Common mallow
This species is native to Temperate Asia, Europe, and North Africa, but has been introduced elsewhere as an ornamental. It has become naturalized in many countries, including Australia, the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In this picture, common mallow grows on a graveyard wall next to Nylars Church, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Moraceae Fig family
Broussonetia papyrifera Paper mulberry
Paper mulberry is a small tree, native to East and South Asia and possibly to some Pacific islands. This species thrives in a wide range of habitats and climates, readily growing in disturbed areas. It is dioecious, and when male and female plants grow together, and seeds are produced, it spreads rapidly. Birds and other animals eat the fruits and thus help dispersing the species. It can also form dense stands via its spreading root system.
As its name implies, fibres of paper mulberry were formerly utilized to produce paper, and in parts of the Pacific, cloth is still made from the bark. The wood is used for making furniture and utensils, and the roots can be used as rope. The orange fruit is fleshy and edible, and the leaves can also be eaten when cooked. Fruit, leaves, and bark were formerly used in traditional medicine.
In the United States, paper mulberry was introduced as a fast-growing shade tree, but due to its vigorous growth it soon began to displace native species, and today it is considered to be an invasive in the south-eastern states. In Pakistan, it is regarded as one of the worst weeds, and it is a highly significant invasive plant on the pampas of Argentina. It is also one of the most dominant invasive species in forests of Ghana and Uganda.
In Taiwan, paper mulberry is very common in cities, popping up everywhere, as in these pictures from Taichung.
Numerous specimens of paper mulberry have taken root in cracks in a wall along a drainage canal, together with downy bur-marigold (see Asteraceae above). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The leaf shape of paper mulberry varies from almost entire to deeply indented. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper mulberry, growing near a playground. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The orange fruits are edible. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ficus superba Large-leaved fig tree
This large tree, which is distributed in China, Taiwan, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia, southwards to Indonesia, belongs to a group of fig trees, called strangler figs. Most seeds of these trees begin their life as an epiphyte in a tree, the seed often sprouting in a pile of bird dung, delivered by the bird which ate the fig fruit. Over the years, aerial roots of the young strangler fig grow down to the ground, where they take root, whereas other roots wrap themselves around the host tree, over time completely enveloping the tree, which is eventually strangled to death. As the trunk of the host tree decays, it leaves the fig tree as a hollow cylinder of aerial roots. It readily grows on buildings, too, and is also able to thrive as a normal free-standing tree.
Other fig trees are presented on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Aerial roots of a giant large-leaved fig, climbing over the remains of a former warehouse of Tait & Co., in the town of Anping, Taiwan. Today, the building is called Anping Tree House. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Onagraceae Evening-primrose family
This is a genus of c. 82 species of mainly aquatic plants, found mostly in the Tropics. This genus was named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, in honour of German botanist Christian Gottlieb Ludwig (1709-1773). It seems, however, that Ludwig was not too happy about this honour. Maybe the flowers of this genus were not pretty enough? Or he didn’t like aquatic plants to be named after him?
Ludwigia hyssopifolia Narrow-leaved primrose-willow
This plant, which grows to 2 m (sometimes 3 m) high, is a very widespread weed of rice fields and wetlands in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. Its origin is not clear. The specific name refers to the likeness of its leaves to those of hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
Narrow-leaved primrose-willow, growing at the edge of a field at the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This narrow-leaved primrose-willow is growing in the dried-out bed of Fazi River, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ludwigia octovalvis Mexican primrose-willow
Despite its name, the native area of this species is unknown, and today it is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It easily becomes naturalized and is regarded as an invasive in some countries.
Mexican primrose-willow is common in wet areas in Taiwan. In this picture, it grows along a river in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Papaveraceae Poppy family
Papaver dubium Long-headed poppy
This species is very common in the major part of Europe, in North Africa, and in western Asia, eastwards to the Himalaya. It mostly grows along roads and in fallow fields. Other pictures of this species, and many other poppies, may be seen on the pages In praise of the colour red and In praise of the colour yellow.
This long-headed poppy has rooted in a crack along a house wall, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Plantaginaceae Plantain family
Cymbalaria muralis Ivy-leaved toadflax
Due to its pretty flowers and vigorous growth, this species, which is a native to the Mediterranean, has been introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental. In some areas, however, it has escaped cultivation and has become an invasive. The common name refers to the leaves, which resemble those of ivy (Hedera helix).
Ivy-leaved toadflax, growing on a stone wall, Bornholm, Denmark. The plant in the lower right corner is greater celandine (Chelidonium majus). This species is described on the page Plants in folklore and poetry. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This ivy-leaved toadflax is growing on the wall of Winchester Cathedral, southern England. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Plantago major Greater plantain
This plant is native to Europe and Temperate Asia, but has been introduced to many parts of the world, often becoming naturalized. When the Europeans emigrated to North America, the sticky seeds of this species often stuck to wagon wheels and were spread, wherever the immigrants went. This was noticed by the indigenous peoples, who called it ‘white man’s footprint’.
Greater plantain, growing in a crack along a gutter, Jutland, Denmark. The red object is a rose petal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Plumbaginaceae Sea-lavender family
Armeria maritima Thrift
The generic name of this plant is probably of Celtic stock, from ar (’near’) and mor (’sea’). In his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (‘Notes on the Gallic War’), Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) mentions an area between the rivers Seine and Loire, which he calls Aremorica. Presumably, thrift was growing here. The Old French name of the plant, armoires, became Latinized as armerios in 1537, later as Armeria. (Source: Corneliuson, J. 1997. Växternas namn. Vetenskapliga växtnamns etymologi. Språkligt ursprung och kulturell bakgrund. (‘Etymology of plant names’, in Swedish)
The specific name, from the Latin mare (’sea’), informs us that thrift is a seashore plant. However, following the introduction of salt-strewing on snow-covered roads in northern Europe, this species has spread inland, where it is now common along roads, even in cities.
In the old days, when sweets were not everyday treats like today, children would suck out nectar from flowers of thrift – or simply eat the entire inflorescence.
Thrift, growing in a crack in a sidewalk, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Poaceae Grass family
This grass has found its way through an opening in a discarded car, where the rear light glass is missing, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bromus sterilis Barren brome
This grass, also called poverty brome or sterile brome, is very common species, which is native to the major part of Europe, North Africa, and Asia, eastwards to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It grows in a wide variety of open habitats, including waste areas, roadsides, and gardens.
Barren brome often grows in cities, here photographed next to a red house wall in the town of Svaneke, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cenchrus echinatus Southern sandspur
If you have once stepped barefoot on the spiny fruits of this grass, you will never forget it. This species, also known by many other names, including spiny sandbur, burgrass, and hedgehog grass, is native to tropical America, but has become naturalized in most tropical and subtropical areas, easily spreading by its spiny fruits, which attach themselves to almost anything. It grows in many different habitats and is regarded as an agricultural weed in 35 countries.
Southern sandspur, growing next to a busy road, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These pictures from Taichung show the spiny fruits of southern sandspur. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chloris barbata Peacock-plume grass
The origin of this plant, which is also known by the names purple top and swollen fingergrass, is uncertain. Some authorities maintain that it is native to Tropical America, others claim that it is indigenous in Tropical Africa. Whatever its origin may be, it has been accidentally introduced to most warmer parts of the world and is regarded as an invasive in a number of countries, including Australia, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and India.
This species is a common weed in sugarcane and rice fields, which is a serious problem, as it is a host of a number of rice insect pests, including white-backed planthoppers (Sogatella furcifera and Sogatodes pusanus), rice bug (Leptocorisa oratorius), rice ear-cutting caterpillar (Mythimna separata), cereal thrips (Haplothrips ganglbaurei and Chirothrips mexicanus), and others.
In Taiwan, peacock-plume grass is extremely common, often covering large tracts of fallow land. The pictures below are all from Taiwan.
Huge growth of peacock-plume grass in a fallow plot, Ziguan, north of Kaohsiung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spikes, moving in the wind, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These tufts of peacock-plume grass have taken root in cracks in the asphalt in an abandoned parking lot, Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Here, it grows along a house wall, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In this picture, a tuft is growing up a wall along a rainwater canal, Taichung. The wind has moved the inflorescences back and forth, scraping dirt off the wall in semi-circles. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Close-up of spikes, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Withered peacock-plume grass can also be very decorative. – Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Festuca rubra Red fescue
Red fescue is a very adaptable species, which can grow in most open habitats, including beaches and dunes. This grass is widespread across much of the Northern Hemisphere, mainly in temperate areas.
Red fescue has also adapted to a life in cities, as these specimens, growing along a water front at Lake Mälaren, central Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hordeum murinum Wall barley
Wall barley, also called false barley, is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It has readily adapted to a life in cities.
These pale spikes of wall barley stand out against house walls in the village of Jyllinge, Zealand (top), and in the town of Rønne, Bornholm, both in Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Melinis repens Natal grass
As its name implies, this species is native to South Africa. However, it has been introduced as an ornamental, or unintentionally, to many other parts of the world. At maturity, its inflorescence is coated in white, silky hairs.
This picture is from Taiwan, where Natal grass is very common, often growing along roads or in abandoned plots, here in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
White seed-heads of Natal grass, glowing against the light. These plants grew at the edge of a walkway along the Han River, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Panicum repens Torpedograss
The native area of this species, also known as creeping panicum or bullet grass, is unknown, but today it is found throughout the world in tropical and subtropical areas. It readily spreads by its large, branching rhizomes, which are pointed, giving rise to the name torpedograss. By Mississippi State University, it is referred to as “one of the world’s worst weeds.”
Torpedograss is very common in Taiwan. In these pictures, it forms a large growth along a fence in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pennisetum alupecuroides Foxtail fountain grass
This species, also called Chinese fountain grass or dwarf fountain grass, is native from eastern Asia southwards to Australia. The specific name stems from the Latin Alopex, a genus of foxes now transferred to the genus Vulpes, and oides (‘resembling’), thus ‘like a fox tail’, alluding to the long spikes.
The genus Pennisetum, comprising 80-140 species, is native to warmer parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America, and some species are widely naturalized in Europe and North America. The spikes are densely bristled, and in some species the bristles are coated in plume-like hairs, which gave rise to the generic name, from the Latin penna (‘feather’) and seta (‘bristle’).
Foxtail fountain grass is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. This picture is from Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Foxtail fountain grass, photographed on a hill near Nanfangao, a huge fishing harbour south of Yilan, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Polygonaceae Buckwheat family
Rumex Docks and sorrels
This huge, almost worldwide genus has about 200 members. Dock is an old term applied to various plants with large leaves, whereas sorrel is a brownish-orange to pale chestnut colour, referring to the brown fruits of this genus.
Rumex japonicus Japanese dock
This is a widespread species in the Far East, growing along fields and streams, and in humid valleys, from sea level to 3,400 m altitude. It is distributed from south-eastern Siberia, Mongolia, and northern China southwards through Korea and Japan to Taiwan and southern China. It is utilized in traditional medicine.
Leaves of a Japanese dock, which has sprouted in a wall along a drainage canal, Taichung, Taiwan. The pink blots are eggs of the golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata), described on the page Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The picture below shows vegetation at a sewage outlet in Taichung. The plant with large leaves is Japanese dock, whereas the one with white flowers is downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa, see Asteraceae above), and the one with yellow flowers is Mexican primrose-willowherb (Ludwigia octovalvis, see Onagraceae above).
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Polypodiaceae Polypody family
A member of the polypody family, growing out of a drainage pipe, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sapindaceae Soapberry family
Cardiospermum halicacabum Balloon vine
Balloon vine is a climbing herb, which is easily recognized by its swollen fruits. The tiny seeds are black with a white spot, shaped like a heart, hence its generic name, from the Greek kardia (‘heart’) and sperma (‘seed’), as well as the common names heart pea and love-in-a-puff (the seeds are hidden inside the swollen fruits).
This species is widely distributed in tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia, and has also become naturalized in many other parts of the world. In New Zealand, where it is considered a pest, trading of its seeds is prohibited.
The medical usage of balloon vine is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Balloon vine is very common in Taiwan. A plant has sprouted among stones in a dried-out river bed in the city of Taichung (top), another is clinging to barbwire, likewise in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Solanaceae Nightshade family
This genus of about 67 species of shrubs or shrubby herbs are commonly referred to as tobacco plants. Most species are indigenous to the Americas, with some found in the South Pacific, Australia, and south-western Africa. The true tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum) is widely grown for production of tobacco, whereas others are cultivated as ornamentals.
Nicotiana plumbaginifolia Mexican tobacco
This plant, popularly called Tex-Mex tobacco, is native to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. It has been introduced, intentionally or accidentally, to many countries in Asia, and also to southern United States. This species mainly grows in cultivated fields and wastelands, and is often considered an unwanted weed.
The specific name refers to the leaves, which resemble those of some species in the genus Plumbago.
In recent years, Mexican tobacco has been accidentally introduced to Taiwan. In these pictures, it grows along a fence in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
One of the largest plant genera in the world, counting more than 1,300 species, among which is a number of cultivated plants, including potato (S. tuberosum), tomato (S. lycopersicum), tomato tree (S. betaceum), and eggplant (S. melongena).
This genus is dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Solanum erianthum Potato tree
A native of North and Central America, potato tree has been introduced to numerous other countries, and in many areas it is regarded as an “environmental weed”.
Potato tree is very common in Taiwanese cities, often growing in vacant lots, and in cracks along walls and canals. This specimen was photographed in an abandoned lot in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fruiting potato tree, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Solanum indicum Indian nightshade
This shrubby herb, growing to 3 m tall, resembles potato tree, but its leaves are lobed and wavy, and it has prickles on the stems and sometimes also along the leaf nerves. The smallish berries, to 2 cm across, are either orange or yellow. This plant, which is also known as S. violaceum, is native to the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, but has become naturalized in numerous countries in warmer areas.
Indian nightshade is very common in the lowlands of Taiwan, here photographed in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Solanum nigrum Black nightshade
This species probably originates in southern Europe, but has become naturalized in most parts of the globe. In northern Europe, it is a common weed in vegetable gardens, reflected in the common names garden nightshade and garden huckleberry. Other names include hound’s berry and wonder berry.
Black nightshade, growing at a house wall, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Urticaceae Nettle family
Parietaria judaica Spreading pellitory-of-the-wall
This plant often grows on buildings and stone walls in cities, and along roads. It is native to southern Europe, central and western Asia and northern Africa, but has been widely introduced to many other places. In Australia, California, and elsewhere, it is considered an invasive weed.
Spreading pellitory-of-the-wall, growing on house walls, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fungi and lichens
Xanthoria parietina Common orange lichen
This species, also called yellow scale or shore lichen, is a leafy lichen with a very wide distribution, found in most of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. It is one of the few lichens, which is favoured by eutrophication, being very common on rocks, large trees, roofs, walls, etc.
Tombstone with growth of common orange lichen, Kirke Stillinge, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old wall in the town of Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland, with vegetation of common orange lichen and wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), a fern. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common orange lichen, growing on a heraldic lion, Nyborg, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded June 2016)
(Latest update June 2020)