Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia Siphilitica) is a magnificent autumn blooming wildflower native to Tennessee. This plant grows a robust 2-4 feet tall with blue (in rare cases, white) flowers up to 1 inch long with the corolla tube somewhat inflated and striped white beneath it. It likes moist habitats and usually grows along stream banks, roadside ditches, and swamps.
Great Blue Lobelia was considered a medicinal plant by the Native Americans. The Iroquois Indians in the North used the plant's root to treat venereal disease. In fact, Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs in North America between 1756-1774, collected samples of the plant and sent it home to England in hopes of providing Europe with a cure for the life-threatening disease, syphilis. European physicians were unable to prove that treating syphilis with Great Lobelia was effective. Despite these findings, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus gave the plant the Latin name, Lobelia siphilitica. Western medicine rejects the plant as medicinal because it can be fatal if the wrong dosage is administered. It contains an active ingredient, lobeline, which has a similar effect on the body as nicotine. Tea made from this plant was used by the Shoshone Indians as an emetic. The Cherokee crushed the roots of Lobelia and used it as a poultice for body aches. Other Native Americans used it to treat croup, coughs, and worms and to induce sweating and urination. Lobelia syphiltica was also used as a tonic after an influenza attack.
Native Americans saw value in this plant for its magical properties as well. Great Blue Lobelia was used by the Creeks to ward off ghosts. The Meskwakis used it in love potions. It is a common belief that the flower can manipulate the weather. Folklore claims if the powdered plant is thrown at an oncoming storm, it will halt its approach.
This plant grows along Henry Creek at Beaman Park near Nashville.
Halloween is coming and what better way to start celebrating then by seeking out this evil wildflower's dwellings. Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) is a parasitic plant with folknames such as Witches' Hair, Devil's Sewing Thread, and Hellweed. Dodder, or it's most common and less scary name, Love Vine, is one of few flowering parasitic plants. Dodder's ghoulish names come from the uncommon manner in which it thrives. Like most plants, Love Vine's seeds germinate in the soil and send up small shoots, but unlike other plants the stem grows up in a circular motion until it comes into contact with a nearby plant (the host). Dodder's stem begins to twine around the neighboring plant, inserting suckers into its stem to draw out nutrients, because dodder has no chlorophyll of its own. Once this contact is made, dodder's original stem wilts and breaks from the ground. Now it is completely dependent on the host plant for nourishment.
The flourishing dodder vine can produce hundreds of feet of stem and new root-like probes, draining the host plant of nutrients and water. The host becomes covered in an entanglement of the threadlike vine causing it to lose sunlight. Most parasitic plants don't pose a serious threat to their hosts, but can cause enough damage to reduce the yields of food crops, such as alfalfa and clover.
Medicinally, dodder has been used as remedy for kidney, liver and spleen ailments. The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper believed dodder takes on the properties of the plant it grows on. Culpeper claims dodder that grew on nettles took on the diuretic properties of the host and cured ailments of the urinary tract. Culpeper's favorite host plant was thyme. He believed if dodder that grew on thyme was administered medicinally, it helped diseases of the “head and brain” such as “trembling of the heart, faintings, and swoonings.”
Dodder is a magical plant ruled by Saturn. It is used in love divination and knot magic. Pick dodder and throw it over the shoulder back onto the host plant. Return to the same plant the next day. If the dodder has reattached itself to its host, the person in question loves you. If it hasn't, then the person doesn't.
Dodder can be viewed in its natural state at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville, August-October.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Bells Bend Park
Tiger Swallowtail on Ironweed
One doesn't even have to leave Metropolitan Nashville to see this Fall bloomer's deep magenta hues. Ironweed grows along roadsides and interstates, as well as in people's backyards. It blooms for about four weeks between August and October. Ironweed loves a moist habitat and can grow up to 12 feet. Its large purple flower cluster can reach a measurement of 3' by 3'. The genus name Vernonia Gigantea honors William Vernon, an English botanists who collected a variety of plants in Maryland from the 1680s-1710s. Cattle do not like the taste of the plant and leave it alone in their pastures.
Many butterflies get nectar from Ironweed. The tiger swallowtail, diana, great spangle fritillary and monarch are just a few of its frequent visitors. Birds also make use of the plant. When the plant has ceased blooming, goldfinches eat the seeds.
Edwin Warner Park, near Nashville, has a spectacular show of Ironweed, Goldenrod, and Thoroughwort in the Fall in the field near the Nature Center. There is a mowed path so visitors can walk through the flowering field and experience the plants, butterflies, and birds up close. Another great place to see this beautiful Autumn plant is Bells Bend Park, just North of Nashville. Bells Bend has a 2.6 mile loop that winds through rolling fields of old farm pastures along the Cumberland River. Nashville purchased this land in 1989 for use as a landfill. Former mayor, Bill Purcell had different plans and now it is an 800-plus-acre park with trails. The park's view of the Fall wildflower display featuring purple Ironweed and showy yellow Goldenrods seems to go on infinitely.
Ironweed is also a powerful medicinal and magical wildflower. Ironweed's leaves and roots have been used medicinally by Native Americans to ease pain during pregnancy and after childbirth and to regulate menses. According to folklore, one can gain control over bosses and co-workers if Ironweed is carried wrapped in purple flannel.
The Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea Tennesseensis), the first wildflower in Tennessee to qualify as a federally endangered species, was removed from the list on August 4, 2011 almost three decades after it was accidentally rediscovered by Vanderbilt Biology professor, Elsie Quarterman at Mount View Cedar Glade in 1968. The Tennessee Coneflower is rare because it is endemic to Middle Tennessee and is only found in Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson Counties. Endemic plants are plants that are native to a particular area and don't grow naturally anywhere else.
The coneflower grows in cedar glades found in the central basin of Tennessee. Cedar glades are open, rocky areas that are surrounded by Eastern Red Cedar trees as well as Hickory and Oak. The sunny openings are susceptible to harsh conditions, very hot and dry in the summer and wet in the winter. There is little to no soil in cedar glades and often plants grow right out of the limestone rock. The glades are home to many endemic plants that have become conditioned to the glade's harsh environment and shallow soil depth.
The Tennessee Coneflower is not only endemic but medicinal as well. There is evidence that Native Americans used the plant by pulverizing the root and mixing it with oil or honey to help speed the recovery of wounds and other skin ailments. The root has also been used to help fight different types of infections including the urinary tract, mouth sores, athlete’s foot and hay fever.
Due to conservation and effort the Tennessee Coneflower has made a comeback and is once again thriving in Middle Tennessee. The flower blooms from May to October and can be viewed at Couchville Cedar Glade, Mount View Cedar Glade, Vesta Cedar Glade, Cedars of Lebanon State Park and Long Hunter State Park in Middle Tennessee.