What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (June week 4)

This week, I’m featuring Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis or Circaea canadensis) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

The species name, Circaea lutetiana, is a recent reclassification from the older name Circaea quadrisulcata, which has resulted in 2 sub-species (or some botanists refer to them as two varieties of C. lutetiana) being adopted. Scientific names for plants are typically based on one (or more) of that particular plant’s parts. Neither of the scientific names for this plant refer to any of its parts, which may help explain the dichotomy of camps of professional plant taxonists and botanists each choosing a different means of how to classify this plant. The genus name Circaea, is named after Circe, the powerful sorceress in Greek mythology who has abundant knowledge of herbs and magic. The species, lutetiana, is derived from the old Latin name for the city of Paris – Lutetia – which supposedly was known at one time as the ‘Witch City,’ possibly a reference to L’affaire des Poisons during the reign of Louis XIV. So, both names refer to enchantment or more darkly, bewitchment, but nothing about the plant seems to cause any such ‘enchanting’ effects. Therein is the mistake, says John Gerard:

“There is no use of the herbe either in Phisicke or chirugerie that I can read of, which hath hapned by the corruption of time, and the errour of some who have taken Mandragoras [Mandrake – Mandragora L., which plant can produce hallucinogenic, and hypnotic effects.] for Circea, in which errour they have still persisted unto this daie, attributing unto Circea the vertues of Mandragoras; by which meanes there hath not any thing beene saide of the true Circea.” – FROM The Herbal, 1597, page 280, by John Norton, London.

Identification Tips:

This perennial plant grows up to 2 feet tall usually as an unbranched stem. The stem frequently has white hairs especially in the upper part, although it may become hairless with age. The opposite leaves are up to 5″ long and 3″ across; they are oval with teeth along their margins.

The central stem terminates in a cluster (called a raceme) of flowers up to 6″ long. The raceme elongates as flowers open from the bottom of the spike to the top. The small flowers are sparsely, but evenly, distributed along a stalk with slender outward spreading branches (called pedicels) up to ½” long. Each flower consists of 2 notched white petals. Each flower is short-lived and replaced by a small bur-like fruit, which readily attach themselves to animal fur or human clothing for seed dispersion. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved for dispersion by such means, the process is called epizoochory.

Folklore:

The meanings associated with the flowers of this species are sorcery and witchcraft.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

There are no known culinary uses of this modest plant.

Traditional medicinal use of this plant is predominantly as an anti-inflammatory agent for the external treatment of skin conditions and wounds.

Wildlife Value:

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract small bees, including sweat bees and small carpenter bees, as well as hoverflies and bee flies.

Where Found Locally:

 

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (June week 2)

This week, I’m featuring Common Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE: Culturally Significant Plant = Ethnobotanic Uses: Edible berries and flowers are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. Read more.

The common name for this plant is believed to come from the Anglo Saxon æld, meaning fire, because the hollow stems of the branches were used as bellows to blow air into a fire.

Identification Tips:

This deciduous shrub typically grows between 4-12′ tall. It is usually multi-stemmed with an arching habit, creating a relatively loose broad crown. On larger and older woody stems, the bark is light grayish brown and warty in appearance from scattered lenticels (air pores). Branches exhibit pairs of opposite compound leaves, about 6-12″ long and a little less across. These compound leaves are mostly simple-pinnate (2-4 pairs of opposite leaflets and one terminal leaflet). Individual leaflets are lance-like or elliptical and serrated along their margins. The stalks of the compound leaves are light green to purplish green, narrowly grooved above, and convex below. Crushed foliage and shoots have an unpleasant aroma.

The upper stems terminate in umbel-like clusters of flowers that span 3-10″ across. Immature panicles are flattened above, but later become more dome-shaped. The intricate branches within each flower cluster are initially light green, but later become bright reddish purple when the fruits become mature. Each regular flower spans about ¼” across, with 5 spreading petals. The flowers have a rather strong fragrance that is sweet, but with musty overtones. The flowers are replaced by small fruits that mature during mid- to late summer and are each a little less than ¼” across, dark purple to black, and globe-like in shape. Each mature fruit has a juicy interior that is sweet, although with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Fruit of Common Elderberry

Folklore:

A German belief, brought to this country with the colonists, was that an elder stick burned on Christmas Eve would somehow reveal all the witches in the neighborhood. A similar American belief was that if a small piece of elder pith was cut, dipped in oil, lit, and then floated on water, it would point to any witch present.

This plant is said to symbolize judgment, transformation, death & regeneration, fate, and the inevitable.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

Both the flowers and the berries have a long tradition of culinary use, primarily for cordial and wine.

The ripened dark blue or purple berries are mildly poisonous if eaten raw. Unripe berries, the seeds of the fruit, and all green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides. The ripened berries become safely edible after cooking and may be used to make jam, jelly, or chutney. In Scandinavia and Germany, soup made from elderberry fruit is a traditional meal known as Fliederbeersuppe (see recipe below).

The flowers may be dipped into a light batter and then fried to make elderflower fritters.

Both flowers and berries may be made into a variety of alcoholic beverages, such as wine, brandy, cordial (e.g., St-Germain, beers vlierke, etc.), or even as a sparling alcoholic beverage similar to champagne.

Consider these recipes –

From flowerheads:

From ripened fruit:

In folk medicine, elder berries have been used for their diaphoretic (induces perspiration), laxative and diuretic (causes increased urination) properties and to treat various illnesses such as stomachache, sinus congestion, constipation, diarrhea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism. The flowers are said to have diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal (rids the body of excess mucous), expectorant (helps clear mucus from the upper and lower airways), circulatory stimulant, diuretic, and topical anti-inflammatory actions. Some of these properties seem justified since elderberry fruits contain tannins and viburnic acid, both known to have a positive effect on diarrhea, nasal congestion, and to improve respiration. Leaves and inner bark have also been used for their purgative (strong laxative), emetic (induces vomiting), diuretic, topical emollient, expectorant, and diaphoretic action.

The potential to use elderberry in medicinal applications arises from its antioxidant potential, a property shared by numerous phytochemicals. As shown in the figure below, this species had the highest antioxidant capacity potential of various small fruits, even higher than cranberry and blueberry, two fruits praised for their high antioxidant capacity.

Source: “Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant,” by D. Charlebois IN Issues in New Crops and New Uses. 2007. J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.). ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Here’s a recipe to help put that antioxidant capacity to good use:

Wildlife Value:

The flowers attract a variety of insects, including honeybees, little carpenter bees, sweat bees, hoverflies, bee flies, house flies, long-horned beetles, and tumbling flower beetles.

Birds that eat the small fruits include American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Ruffed Grouse, White-throated Sparrow, and Wood Thrush. Animals that consume the fruits include Red Squirrel and White-footed Mouse, and also Eastern Box Turtle and Eastern Mud Turtle.

Where Found Locally:

Forthcoming Wildflower Guides

Given the near absence of winter thus far, I have continued my wildflower inventories at a few locations.  And those activities have me thinking about spring and the upcoming return of blooming wildflowers throughout the next growing season.

With that in mind, I wanted to offer this sneak peak screen shot of five new wildflower field guides that will be available on this site in March.  Each of these new guides will be in Microsoft PowerPoint Show format (ppsx), featuring easier navigation throughout each document and higher resolution photographs as well as additional information regarding many of the species contained in each guide.  Unfortunately, each of these digital files is much larger than my previous wildflower guides; thus, downloading will take more time.  Those new wildflower guides will include:

  • Ashford Glen Preservea-field-guide-to-wildflowers-ashford-glen-preserve-1st-edition-march2017-chokecherry-sample-page
  • Bauer Environmental Parka-field-guide-to-wildflowers-bauer-environmental-park-1st-edition-march2017-cranberry-viburnum-sample-page
  • Old Iron Spring Fitness Traila-field-guide-to-wildflowers-old-iron-spring-fitness-trail-1st-edition-march2017-fringed-loosestrife-sample-page
  • Peter Desrochers Memorial Country Knolls Trailsa-field-guide-to-wildflowers-peter-desrochers-memorial-country-knolls-trails-1st-edition-march2017-woodland-agrimony-sample-page
  • Zim Smith Traila-field-guide-to-wildflowers-zim-smith-trail-1st-edition-march2017-common-arrowhead-sample-page

Also, please check my updated status of wildflower inventories.  I will be adding one of those destinations (Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood) as a new page on this site sometime later this year.

In the meantime, view my winter plant ID quiz.

Lastly, a reminder to keep a watchful eye for ticks.  During a winter as mild as this one has been, they remain active.  Last week, I found two while visiting a local preserve!

Happy trails!

Pre-Solstice Sampler of Trailside Blooms

Yesterday, I continued my wildflower inventories at Old Iron Spring Fitness Trail and along the Zim Smith Trail (that portion located within the Town of Ballston).  Here is a sampler of what I observed –

Purple-flowering Raspberry

Purple-flowering Raspberry

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed

Sweetbrier

Sweetbrier

Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac

Hairy Cat's Ear

Hairy Cat’s Ear

Long-leaved Stitchwort

Long-leaved Stitchwort

Sulphur Cinquefoil

Sulphur Cinquefoil

Thimbleweed

Thimbleweed

Thyme-leaved Sandwort

Thyme-leaved Sandwort

Yarrow

Yarrow

Smooth Hawkweed

Smooth Hawkweed

Yellow Avens

Yellow Avens

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip

Intermediate Dogbane

Intermediate Dogbane

Low Hop Clover

Low Hop Clover

Viper's Bugloss

Viper’s Bugloss

Deptford Pink

Deptford Pink

Hedge Mustard

Hedge Mustard

Today, I similarly continued my wildflower inventory at Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve.  Here is a sampler of what I observed –

Bush Honeysuckle

Bush Honeysuckle

Common Cinquefoil

Common Cinquefoil

White Avens

White Avens

Moneywort

Moneywort

Water Hemlock

Water Hemlock

Bristly Dewberry

Bristly Dewberry

Eastern Blue-eyed Grass

Eastern Blue-eyed Grass

Maleberry

Maleberry

Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled Loosestrife

Tall Meadow Rue

Tall Meadow Rue

Common Elderberry

Common Elderberry

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

Enchanter's Nightshade

Enchanter’s Nightshade

Smaller Forget-me-not

Smaller Forget-me-not

Motherwort

Motherwort

Stout Blue-eyed Grass

Stout Blue-eyed Grass

Happy Summer Solstice Eve!

As always, happy trails.

The cascade of blooms has begun!

The rainy weather and near absence of bright sunshine largely kept me captive inside this past week.  At last, the sun appeared on Saturday, and I spent the better part of it outdoors to catch-up on my wildflower inventories.  My how things are greening up!

I began my trek by visiting the northernmost segment of the Zim Smith Trail.  Not only was I treated to a variety of blooms, but I also added a few more species to my inventory list.  I then visited Old Iron Spring Fitness Trail and afterward rounded out my day’s assignment with a hike at the Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve.

Over the course of the day, I observed these blooms –

Foamflower

Foamflower

American Black Currant

American Black Currant

Swamp Buttercup

Swamp Buttercup

Red Baneberry

Red Baneberry

Field Pennycress

Field Pennycress

Ovate-leaved Violet

Ovate-leaved Violet

Toothwort

Toothwort

Golden Alexanders

Golden Alexanders

Dwarf Raspberry

Dwarf Raspberry

Golden Ragwort

Golden Ragwort

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

Garden Red Currant

Garden Red Currant

In addition, I also observed other plants in bloom; those included:

  • Wild Strawberry and Wood Strawberry
  • Wood Anemone
  • Hoary Alyssum
  • Common Blue Violet
  • Dog Violet
  • Japanese Honeysuckle
  • Coltsfoot
  • Small-flowered Crowfoot
  • Field Pussytoes
  • Apple
  • Henbit
  • Ground Ivy
  • Canada Violet
  • Early Winter Cress and Common Winter Cress
  • Thyme-leaved Sandwort
  • Thyme-leaved Speedwell
  • Pin Cherry
  • Celandine

Interested in seeing more?  Consider joining me for a Wildflower Ramble at 2pm on Saturday, May 14, as part of the 3rd Annual Open Space Day celebration in the Town of Clifton Park.

The months of May and June provide the best opportunity to view the most species of wildflowers in bloom.  I encourage you to find an opportunity each week over the next two months to visit a variety of local open space areas of your choice to enjoy the colorful array of blooms that await us.

Happy trails!