One of my chores during the winter months is to up-date the data on my collection of wildflower photos. Each time I find new information I re-do the data sheet, and I also find that this habit reinforces my retention of the essential information as the old memory gets a bit rusty with the passage of time…
Dry as dust scientific information is enlivened with the sometimes whimsical ‘common’ names that some plant carry, often differing from county to county or country to country. The ‘binomial’ Latin name remains the same all over the world so that a botanist in China can converse confidently with an English one and be sure they are both talking about the same plant, but add into the mix the ‘common’ name and it becomes a free-for-all!
A recent up-date on the Trillium erectum revealed it may be called Purple trillium, Wake-robin, Bethroot or Stinking Benjamin! Purple trillium is self-explanatory, Wake-robin refers to its early arrival on the spring scene (before the robin returns), Bethroot is a corruption of ‘Birthroot’ referring to its use in the past in childbirth, and Stinking Benjamin is apparent after burying one’s nose in the petals - although I’m not sure what Benjamin had to do with it… The bad odor, by the way, is to attract flies to aid in pollination as not many other insects are awake and active this early in the season.
Another example of a plant living up to its common name is Heal-all, aka Selfheal. The scientific name is Prunella vulgaris but that cannot begin to extol its virtues. This plant is a common weed in lawns but wait until I tell you of just some of the beneficial properties: antibiotic, antimutagenic, antitumor, hypotensive, diuretic, and rich in antioxidents; it has been used in the past to treat kidney problems, boils, conjunctivitis, scrofula, sore throats, mouth sores, fevers, diarrhea, ulcers, wounds and bruises. Did I mention it’s called Heal-all?
And then there is the wildflower called Turtlehead – no other name is needed – it describes the flower form precisely! Love it!
A new (to me) common name for the wild form of Bleeding heart (Dicentra sp.), known as Dutchman’s breeches is Staggerweed – again very descriptive as it covers the symptoms of cattle that may have munched on it in an absent-minded manner; glassy eyes, trembling, staggering gait, frothing from the mouth and convulsions. Death is rare, so I guess the cows just have a very bad day then resume doing normal cow things.
I am not making these things up!
Neither am I making up the information that last year’s most hated weed – Hairy bittercress – has already germinated and is getting ready to flower under the snow. Get out there and wage war now and prevent future weeds from being produced; it’s no good waiting until those pretty white flowers have matured into seed pods that will fling a gazillion seeds all over the yard! Look for a neat, flat rosette of dainty, heart-shaped leaves about 3” across, bright green in color. At this stage they can be composted!