Tag Archive | Wild Plants

A Pretty Weed

Every late spring a shady corner of the hayfield is bright blue with the flowers of a pretty weed.  The area is about 5 feet square and has not increased noticeably in size over the years.  Having learned my lesson from the yellow rattle about allowing pretty weeds in the hayfield, I decided to research this lovely blue flower.  Turns out it is Germander speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, a member of the Plantain family.

Germander speedwell was introduced to New England and is native to Britain and Europe.  A perennial herb with rhizomes, it is termed a turf weed due to its tenacious ability to survive with grass.  The name Germander has nothing to do with Germany.  It is a corruption of the pronunciation of chamaedrys.  The herb has a long association with healing and was well known and widely used over 500 years ago.  The high tannin content of the leaves and stems makes an astringent tea that was favored for respiratory tract and nervous system ailments and as a treatment for stomach ulcers.  It was also used as a poultice on the skin, especially for itching.

The flowers are large for a turf weed, measuring a half-inch across.  Each flower lasts only one day and wilts quickly on picking.  This trait earned the plant the sobriquet Mannertreu or Men’s Faithfulness in Germany.  Apparently German men had a reputation for short-lived faithfulness.  During extended rainy spells, the flowers do not open.  They are able to self-pollinate.  In France the plant was often used as a substitute for Asian tea, due to a similar smell and flavor, and went by the name Europe Tea.  The seeds are said to be favored by birds.

Because this weed can out-compete grass, I will be keeping a close eye on it.  Should the size of the patch increase, I will mercilessly eradicate the little speedwell.  So far the plant has restricted itself to one shady spot under an ancient maple and causes no problem in the field.

 

Bloodroot

During a recent walk on our farm I found this patch of white flowers.  The single leaf has a distinctive growth habit of wrapping around the flower stem.  The early blooming spring plant is called bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis.  It is native to northeastern North America.  Bloodroot grows in moist to dry conditions, from woods to floodplains, in full sun to shade.  I did not detect any fragrance in the flowers.
Bloodroot has a rhizome that grows close to the surface. It sends out shoots in early spring and is pollinated by bees and flies.  The flowers produce pollen, but no nectar. The plant is spread by ants who carry the seeds away to their colonies to eat the attached elaoisomes.  After the flower is pollinated and the petals drop, the leaf enlarges and unfurls.  By the time the seeds develop, the leaves begin to yellow and die away.  The plant then goes dormant until next spring.

Bloodroot earned its name from the bright red juice in the rhizome.  When the root is damaged, it appears to bleed.  Bloodroot is poisonous.  The chemicals in the sap can burn the skin.  In times of old, people used the juice to burn away warts and even cancer.  It was a dangerous and somewhat ineffective treatment that often resulted in severe skin damage.  The plant extract was also touted as a cure all and sometimes ingested.  Its use has been linked to cancerous growth in the mouth due to skin damage.

So it is best to enjoy the fleeting beauty of bloodroot flowers from a distance.  Do not pick or otherwise disturb this wild spring beauty.