Meet Pidgeon berry, rouge plant, or Rivina humilis L.
This small deciduous perennial has been popping up everywhere in our yard (along with a lot of imitation ragweed) and until today I had only wild guesses as to what it was. With help from Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and a little online research, I now know what it is.
As a gardener I appreciate a shade loving perennial that can produce flowers and such bright berries. (The wrinkly burnt edges of the leaves are the result of one of our dogs repeatedly marking the same spot along the fence. It’s pretty impressive that it has survived at all, normally Jake’s pee just kills the plant.) When the soil is kept moist the plant will bloom until October, during drought the plant will go dormant and then shoot up after a good rainfall. Growing up in TX where rain during the summer is already rare and magical enough, having plants that break out of dormancy with rain has always made a good thunderstorm even more exciting. Every part of the plant is toxic so it doesn’t really have a place in the vegetable garden or around the chickens. As an artist, this plant definitely has a place in my ornamental/dye garden though.
The red berries have traditionally been used as a source of red dye, hence the name ‘rouge plant’. I’m drying these berries to save seeds from and propagate a good amount of plants. The dye can be obtained the way you would collect dye from other berries – mashing the fruit, soaking, straining, and treating the fabric. I haven’t been able to find an example of the color produced but plan on experimenting and will be sure to post what I find.
A great source of natural dye plants is at Pioneer Thinking; it can be fun to see what you have in your garden already that can be used for dye and even more fun to plan a garden for the purpose of dye production.