• Needle-and-thread
  • Previously known plant
  • Stipa comata
  • Perennial, grass family, found in drier sites across the Great Plains. Needle-and-thread is related to two other very similar species. This cool season grass (it matures in the late spring) is a staple of drier ranges. It is both drought and winter tolerant. Its seeds are very sharp with a long twisted awn attached, thus its common name. American Indians bound rows of seed heads into bundles and used them for a comb.


Shell leaf penstemon

  • Shell-leaf penstemon
  • Previously known
  • Penstemon grandiflorus Latin translation: Big flowers with five stamens
  • Perennial, figwort or snapdragon family, Eastern Great Plains. It is also called beardtongue and bluebells. This plant is striking due to its height as well as its showy flowers, but disappointingly it has no scent. Several species of Penstemon grow in Nebraska, but only one is scented and it is done blooming. I may write about it later, if I see any, which I probably won’t. Several tribes used Penstemon to treat a variety of ailments including stomach aches, chest pains, vomiting, toothache and both snake and eagle bites. The Lakota Sioux made a dye from another Penstemon for use on moccasins.


Black Samson

  • Black Samson
  • Previously known
  • Echinacea angustifolia In Greek, echinus means sea urchin or hedgehog
  • Perennial, sunflower family, various species found throughout the Great Plains. American Indians used Echinacea for many things and passed this knowledge to pioneers. They treated mumps, smallpox, snakebites and bee stings, toothaches, rabies, arthritis, and stomach cramps, as well as symptoms of the common cold. Some tribes used it as a stimulant like primitive caffeine.
  • In 1871 Dr. H. C. F. Meyer, a patent medicine salesman of Pawnee City, Nebraska, who had heard about the use of the plant by the Indians, marketed a tincture of the root as Meyer’s Blood Purifier. This potion was touted to cure syphilis, gangrene, diphtheria, cold sores and malaria as well as everything the Indians used it for and many other diseases as well. Dr Meyer was so sure of his blood purifier, he offered to let a rattlesnake bite him, then he would cure himself using only his medicine. In the 1920s scientists tested Echinacea but could not find evidence that it cured snakebites, anthrax, botulism, tetanus or tuberculoses. It does have medicinal properties, aside from treating colds. If you peel the outer skin from the root and chew on the black and white tap root your mouth will tingle in a metallic way and go numb, apparently it has numbing properties when used topically as well.


Showy Milkweed

  • (Showy?) Milkweed
  • Previously known
  • Asclepias speciosa Nebraska is home to 15 species of milkweed, and many of them are very similar.
  • Perennial, milkweed family. In the 1940s, the US government began ordering lifejackets and flight suits lined with milkweed because it is light and very buoyant. It is also used in comforters. Milkweeds have an incredibly sweet odor, but the scent masks several toxins. Monarch butterflies eat large amounts of milkweed while they are in the caterpillar stage, and retain the toxins once they become butterflies. Birds learn to avoid eating monarchs because of this. American Indians cooked milkweed much as we might use cabbage. Children chewed the sap like gum. Dried seedpods served as spoons. The most interesting medicinal use was to aid in lactation. They believed the white milkweed milk would encourage a mother’s milk. If that weren’t enough, they also used it to cure tapeworm and as a contraceptive. I am pretty sure my contraceptive does not guard against tapeworm, but maybe I should ask my doctor.


Sensitive Briar

  • Sensitive Briar
  •  Seen one other time
  • Schrankia nuttallii
  • Perennial, mimosa family, found throughout the central and southern Great Plains on dry disturbed sites. Rather than the flower what you actually see are tubular pink stamens each tipped with a yellow anther. The leaves of this plant collapse inward when they are disturbed, and they are great fun to mess with. The leaves may collapse to conserve moisture.