A Visitor From Whoville

The little fellow above has captivated me for several days. In fact, as I continue on my quest of 100 local plant species to identify (and learn more about), I'm finding the going isn't as easy as I'd thought it would be. Think about it. I have a great wildflower book, dedicated to Montana's particularly beautiful and diverse wildflowers. And, of course, I also have the internet. My goodness what more could one ask?

Well, I'm learning therein lies my problem. One, the wildflowers in Montana are incredibly diverse. Two, there is an information overload out there! It isn't like I can stick my wildflower pictures in a slot and the handy, dandy internet identifies them. In fact, that is about as far from reality as it gets.

So, back to my friend above. As challenging (and rewarding) as identifying the various wildflowers has been, when I stumble across something as fascinating as my friend above, then recognize it is in the 'seed' stage, I'm really thrown for a loop.

At one point I contemplated admitting defeat and asking for help. But, believe it or not, the challenge is half the fun! So, I kept looking - trying to find my friend's cousin not so far into the seed stage. It took awhile, but my persistance paid off. So, if I've wet you're curiousity, stay with me. I'll identify our friend below!

For those of you just tuning in, I've decided to take on a friend's 100 species challenge. According to her research, most people don't know the name of even 100 local plant species. Well, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm one of those people. But, I'm working to reconcile that - and enjoying the process immensely. If you'd like to learn more about the first 10 species listed below (in un-bold text), follow this link

For the rest of you, species 11 - 20 are detailed below. I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I enjoyed my plant education.

  • 1. Blue Violet
  • 2. Paintbrush
  • 3. Cushion Phlox
  • 4. Woods Forget-Me-Not
  • 5. Sticky Geranium
  • 6. Gaillardia
  • 7. Wood's Rose
  • 8. Cow Parsnip
  • 9. Showy Fleabane
  • 10. Prairie Smoke
  • 11. Few-flowered Shooting Star
  • 12. Sulfer Buckwheat
  • 13. Lanceleaf Stonecrop
  • 14. Spurred Lupine
  • 15. Mountain Sorrel
  • 16. Hound's Tongue
  • 17. Pennycress
  • 18. Chives
  • 19. Sugarbowl
  • 20. Tall Cinquefoil

  • Name: Few-flowered Shooting Star

    Things I Already Knew: This uniquely shaped flower shows up in early summer. It seems to prefer cool, moist locations. By mid-summer it is nowhere to be seen.

    Things I Recently Learned: This flower is actually an easily cultivated perennial. A member of the primrose family, four different species of shooting stars have been reported in Montana.

    Like so many wild plants, the shooting star had medicinal purposes for the American Indian. An infusion of the roots was used as an eye wash. A cooled infusion of the leaves was used for eye drops. And, an infusion of the leaves was gargled, especially by children, for cankers.

    Name: Sulfer Buckwheat

    Things I Already Knew: A low growing plant which produces long stems topped by puffy flower clumps. Easy to identify from other 'cluster-type white flowers' because of its distinctive leaf pattern at the flower-stem joint. Unopened flowers have a redish hew. The opened flowers can be pure white or display a touch of pink.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Buckwheat family (all five Montana genera display their flowers in umbels). This plant is fairly drought resistance and can be grown as a ground cover in domestic flowerbeds.

    Although I found this plant easier to identify than many other wildflowers, it apparently has so many different variations the different species can be hard to distinguish with accuracy.

    This showy flower serves as a larvae host and / or nectar source for the Lupine Blue butterfly. This plant has a very long taproot which makes it nearly impossible to transplant. In addition, although propagation from seed is the preferred method, germination is low - so plant a LOT of seeds.

    American Indians used a flower infusion as an eyewash and for cleaning out the intestines. An infusion of the entire plant was used to shrink the uterus and to reduce dysmenorrhea (painful menstral cramps). Other uses included a wash for newborn babies, the reduction of hip and back pain, help in expediting birthing, and as a diurectic to aid with water retention. The plant is quite water soluable and has low toxicity making it quite safe to use.

    Name: Lanceleaf Stonecrop

    Things I Already Knew: A brilliant cluster of bright yellow flowers on top of a fairly short stem, this plant makes a bright statement for its size. Usually found in clumps. Seems to prefer more arid locations such as rocky south-facing hillsides.

    Things I Recently Learned: As its name implies, Lanceleaf is a member of the stonecrop family (which represents a variety of house and garden plants). The stonecrop is part of the sedem species. These unique plants conserve water by closing the pores on their leaf surfaces during the day.

    The leaves and shoots of these plants can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups or stews. However, the older plants become bitter. Because they are rich in Vitamins A and C, they have been used to treat skin wounds, burns and bites. In addition, an infusion of its stems, leaves and flowers has been taken to clean out the womb after childbirth.

    "Sedum" is Latin for 'to sit' which probably refers to the fact that these very short plants seem to sit on the ground.

    Do not overeat this plant. Apparently it has laxative effects.

    Name: Spurred Lupine

    Things I Already Knew: A common flower propigated in many colors for the flower garden. Propagation is by seed. The plants produce abundant pods as their flowers begin to fade. A hardy perennial Lupine flowers its second year.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Pea Family (also known as the bean family or legume family), this very large family has many genre in Montana. The spurred lupine is one species often found in the open forests of western Montana.

    This plant is a good one to keep out of your pasture. Many parts are poisionous to animals, with the seed pods being the most toxic. In fact, as little as one-half pound can be lethal to sheep.

    Name: Mountain Sorrel

    Things I Already Knew: Not a very showy plant, but a hardy one. It doesn't seem to be too abundant around here (I read this species is most often found in overgrazed pastures - so this is a good thing). Often seen as a bright red 'spot' above the heavy grasses in our moist meadows. It reminds me a bit of a plant which was abundant where I grew up. We called that plant sour-dock.

    Things I Recently Learned: Another member of the buckwheat family, mountain sorrel is also called sheep sorrel or few-leaved dock (is that why it looked kinda like sour-dock to me?). The flowers of this plant are unisexual.

    Although I did not find any specific and interesting uses for Mountain Sorrel, the leaves of a cousin, Broad-leaved Dock, were used to wrap and conserve butter. In addition, the leaves of that plant have slightly astrigent and purgative qualities. In fact, in England the leaves are used as a remedy for the sting of nettles.

    Name: Hound's Tongue

    Things I Already Knew: Here's an interesting plant I've often overlooked. Partly because it is not too common in my area. Partly because it's showy flowers are only spots of color on a bushy, tall stem. I really don't know anything about this plant.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Borage family which is sometimes called the Forget-Me-Not family. This plant is named after its leaves which bear a vein pattern resembling a dog's tongue. The lower leaves feel velvety to the touch and may reach a foot long. The upper leaves are smaller and often appear to clasp the stem.

    Hound's Tongue may cause skin reactions. It also contains alkaloids that affect the central nervous system and cause liver damage and cancer. However, this plant also contains allantoin, which has been used to treat skin and intestinal ulcers. Additionally it has heliosupine, an alkaloid used for relief of hemorrhoids.

    Caution should be excercised if using this plant as it is potentially carcinogenic. In spite of that, it has a long and varied history of medicinal uses.

    A non-native, this plant was introduced from Europe.

    Name: Pennycress

    Things I Already Knew: Although the flowers on this plant appear to be short-lived, the distinctive leaf shape is obvious for many summer months.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Mustard Family, its common name arises from the pennylike, round, thin fruits. The milk from cows which eat this plant has a strong odor and bitter flavor which shouldn't be surprising as even the young leaves, which are edible, have a bitter taste. However, the bitterness is reduced by cooking the leaves.

    Before the twentieth century, pennycress was used as a poison antidote. It more recent times the leaves have been eaten for general health, and the seeds used for treating conditions like eye inflammation and lumbago.

    Use Caution: This plant contains sufficient quantities of glucosinolates to be toxic. The content is sufficient to cause sickness and death in cattle. However, the entire plant is anti-inflammatory and acts as a blood tonic and blood purifier. It has agents which aid in the removal of mucous secretions. It is fever reducing and promotes the well-being of the liver.

    Wow. That is some combination of good and bad!

    Name: Chives

    Things I Already Knew: Edible. Have an onion-like flavor. Flower heads are a pretty and edible edition to a green salad. Prefer moist, shady soils.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Lily family, which also includes onions, lilies and asparagus. Chives are the smallest species of the onion family.

    A North American native, they are referred to only in plural (duh, I never caught that) because they grow in clumps.

    Chives are used in cooking and also as a garden insect repellent. They are rich in Vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulfur and iron. Their medicinal qualities are similar to garlic, but weaker. However, they do have a beneficial effect on the curculatory system and act to lower blood pressure.

    Name: Sugarbowl

    Things I Already Knew: An unassuming plant, this pretty droop-headed flower is easily overlooked. By mid-summer, it has turned into my unique friend shown above!

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the buttercup family, this small flower is actually part of the clematis group. Also called vase flower and leather flower, this is a sturdy prennial.

    This 'flower' really doesn't have petals. The feather plumes which so fascinated me are actually the styles on the ovary once they reach maturity.

    A leaf decoction has been used to treat headaches. American Indians used the root to treat the pain of nose congestion. Although there are no records of toxicity, some if not all members of the genus are mildly poisonous.

    One other interesting point - the dried floss which so intrigued me makes good tinder for starting fires. It can also be used as added insulation in your shoes.

    Name: Tall Cinquefoil

    Things I Already Knew: This plant's tall stem with lots of strawberry-like flowers makes a showy display by early summer. Seems to prefer moist meadows.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Rose Family, the first part of this plant's Latin name means 'powerful'. This refers to the medicinal aspects of some species. The second part means 'sharp' which refers to the 'teeth' found on the leaf's margins.

    Also known as Prairie Cinquefoil, it has marginal medicinal uses. In times past the Ojibwa powdered the roots, put the moistened powder on duck down, and use it to control bleeding. The plant's ability to control bleeding is attributed to the tannis contained within.

    Each day, as I hike, I carry my camera. Not because I really 'expect' to see something new - but just in case. And, believe it or not, I'm still finding species I've never seen before. Amazing! This, while time consuming, is such a fun way to spend my time!

    Lady of the Lake

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