July Brings New Wildflowers #1, White

Recording changes in wildflower and plant populations as the seasons progress…

Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis).

This is a non-native plant with several alternate names (Soapwort, Latherwort, Lady’s-wash Bowl, London Pride). Since early July it has become very prevalent along local gravel roads; unsurprisingly it is described as quite invasive. Locally the flower is white with a hint of lavender. The lavender is more pronounced in some images online.

Many of this plant’s names refer to the fact that it has commonly been used in the past to make soap. Its name “London Pride” reflects that it was planted alongside city streets to mask smells of poor sanitation.

Its “main” name, Bouncing Bet, has a fairly ridiculous origin. Reportedly, it is because the flower’s petal resembles the rear view of a bent-over washerwoman (name of Bet).

Campion, a wildflower that blooms a few weeks earlier, looks somewhat similar.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

This is a plant native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere that is renowned for medicinal properties. Its genus name (Achillea) was assigned by Linnaeus in 1753 and refers to the Greek hero Achilles, who supposedly used yarrow to staunch his warrior’s wounds. A fellow blogger has checked on this and finds that the herb used by Achilles really never was explicitly identified as yarrow.

In any case, yarrow has been used for centuries as a treatment effective in stopping the flow of blood from wounds. Warriors in the days of sword fighting particularly relied on it. Native Americans used yarrow extensively for pain relief. Remarkably, yarrow residue has been detected in tartar from 50,000 year-old Neanderthal teeth. Because yarrow is bitter, the assumption is that this Neanderthal was using it as medicine and not food.

In the Middle Ages, before the use of hops in brewing, yarrow was one of many bitter herbs used to flavor beer. The mixture of these herbs was called gruit.

The species name of yarrow, millefolium, means “thousand leaves”, appropriate because of its many finely divided leaflets. The horribly invasive Eurasian watermilfoil is a different plant (Myriophyllum spicatum).

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)

Spreading dogbane is small bushy plant with fairly inconspicuous white flowers, it becomes more noticeable in the fall when its leaves turn bright yellow. Plants in the dogbane and milkweed family are related. Like milkweed, this plant bleeds a sticky white sap that is somewhat toxic to people (and dogs).

Also like milkweeds, the nectar of dogbane flowers are an important food source for monarch butterflies. Butterflies, with their long tongues, can safely access the nectar of these flowers. Flies, with short tongues, are commonly trapped by the flower; which explains its alternate name, Fly-trap Dogbane.

White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba)

The “Picture This” app identifies this by an alternate name, Honey Clover. This clover is an invasive species from Eurasia; it was brought to North America long ago as a forage crop. Now many states consider it a noxious weed.

The problem with White Sweet Clover is that it can out-compete native species. If unchecked it can displace desirable natives in grasslands.

The plant has many seemingly desirable characteristics. Like most legumes, its roots are associated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that fertilize soil. It has also been planted because it is a good source of nectar for honey bees.

There is a good online report from the US Department of Agriculture that reviews several applications where White Sweet Clover was once considered beneficial. It goes on to discuss undesirable effects of its introduction that were not initially apparent. A non-expert (like me) gets the impression that the presence of sweet clover has pros and cons that are complicated and thus is a subject of considerable study.

Published by jimr77

Recently retired, loving life in northern Minnesota

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