Spring is here and my fancy has turned again to flowers.  If for some reason the photo does not load and you really want to see the plant, you can look in my plant challenge folder.

 

Leadplant

  • Leadplant
  • Previously known plant
  • Amorpha canescens
  • Perennial, legume family, throughout the Great Plains. The name comes from the color of the leaflets. It has small purple flowers which bloom in June and July. The Omaha and Ponca called leadplant the “buffalo bellow plant” because it blooms when the bison are in rut. Pioneers called it “prairie shoestrings” because of the long roots. Some American Indians used leadplant to make tea or to smoke. Many tribes used the soft leaves for toilet paper. Speaking from personal experience, I know of better plants out there for such purposes. Leadplant is an indicator of good range condition. I once had to convince a guy that his chemical dealer was cheating him by selling him spray to get rid of this. He said he could have purchased a new pickup for what he had spent in chemicals.
  • Scarlet globemallow

  • Scarlet Globemallow
  • Previously known
  • Sphaeralcea coccinea The name sphaera is Greek for globe shaped (sphere) referring to the seeds which are round with pie shaped segments. Coccinea means red.
  • Globemallow has gray-green leaves and salmon colored flowers with bright yellow pistils. It can grow up to one foot tall, but because it prefers droughty areas, it is usually shorter than that. It can be found throughout the west blooming April through August. Other mallows include hollyhocks, cotton, okra and hibiscus. The American Indians used globe mallow to treat a variety of ailments from wounds to rabies. Medicine men would rub a paste made from it on their arms to deaden them before reaching into boiling water (to impress others). The Navajo used it to improve their singing voices.
  • This is my favorite flower of all time, so I was excited to see it growing when I went back home a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately my seed sprouting experiment was an unmitigated disaster. I still have four packets though, so I will try again. Presumably it is easy to start this or transplant, but since I found mine on federal lands, I hesitated to get my shovel out, at least so close to the road.

Death Camass

  • Death camas
  • Previously known
  • Zigadenus ssp.
  • Several species of Zigadenus can be found across the Great Plains, and all are poisonous. This member of the lily family bears a striking resemblance to the wild onion, another lily. Like most lilies, Death camas grows from a bulb, and has long flat, grass-like leaves. It blooms May through July, some species may grow to two feet high. All parts of the plant contain the alkaloid zigadenine, which can be compared to strychnine. Even the plant savvy Indians sometimes accidentally poisoned themselves when a bulb was inadvertently included in a mixture of other edible bulbs. They used it to treat snake bite and venereal disease as well as induce vomiting.
  • Unlike onions, death camas does not have an odor, and “taste (s) poisonous” according to Kelly Kindsher, author and field tester for Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie. Kindscher sampled it to compare it to an edible lily which closely resembles death camas. He says, if something tastes bad, it probably shouldn’t be eaten. I rest my case for Brussels sprouts.

cudweed sagewort

  • Cudweed sagewort
  • Previously known
  • Artemisia ludoviciana
  • Perennial, sunflower family, can be found from Mexico to Canada in most any soil type. Nebraska is home to many different species of sage. Some are woody shrubs while others are soft stemmed forbs. Sages were fairly important to the Plains Indians. Cudweed sagewort was called Man’s sage by many tribes. Contrary to its name, cudweed sagewort is a pretty plant. It has silvery leaves and stems coated with fine hairs. Many tribes used this particular sage for rituals. The Cheyenne used it to purify themselves and to protect against evil influences. They also used it for bedding when fasting. Cudweed is vital to the Sundance ceremony. At various points during the ceremony men used it as a paintbrush, in purification, to prevent thirst and to gain strength. Around the home its many uses included, stuffing for pillows, deodorant, packing material, mosquito smudge and in the sweat lodge. In the medicine cabinet, its uses included sinus problems, headache, nosebleeds, tonsillitis, sore throat and cough. Interestingly, both the Romans and American Indians used sage widely in conjunction with a woman’s menses, using it to reduce swelling and for bathing and birthing purposes, as well to treat stomach aches. I thought it was interesting that two groups separated by such time and distance used the same plant for the same purposes.

Cattail  

  • Cattail
  • Previously known
  • Typhus ssp.
  • Cattails can grow to nine feet tall. They have stiff long leaves and a unique flower. In early spring, cattails have two hotdog shaped clusters on their stalks. The top cluster is the male part of the flower. After it turns brown, it produces pollen to fertilize the lower, female cluster, then it dries up and blows away, leaving the female part with a stick coming out of the top of it.
  • Most parts of a cattail are edible. In the spring the shoots can be eaten boiled or raw, and presumably they taste like raw cucumber. The flowers can be eaten like corn on the cob in the early part of the season, when they are green. Later the pollen can be harvested and used with wheat flower for baking. The roots contain lots of starch which can be extracted, or the root itself can be boiled or roasted and eaten. If you are ever lost and hungry near a cattail, you are in luck! Keep in mind however what may be upstream from your cattail, because cattails filter water by taking up pollutants. If you are adventurous, I found some cattail recipes I would be happy to pass along.
  • American Indians had several uses for the rest of the plant. Some tribes wove the leaves to make mats for their lodges. Other tribes used the downy fuzz for wound dressings and as talcum for babies. Getting cattail down in the eyes was believed to cause cataracts or blindness.
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