More wildflowers!


 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
  • 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
  • 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.

My seeds came!


I was tooling around on the internet when I found a place that was selling wildflower seeds.  Plants of the Southwest  (that is a link, even though it doesn’t look like it) I mean real, native to the USA flower seeds.  I placed an order, gave out my credit card # and prayed it was not a hoax designed specifically to entrap homesick native plant lovers.  Sure enough they came yesterday. 

I ordered a penstemon, spotted gayfeather, purple poppymallow, Indian paintbrush, and scarlet globemallow.  All are species native to Nebraska except the paintbrush.  Of course my Nature Conservancy buddies will point out that while the species are native, the plants themselves are not and will not be as hardy as locally harvested seeds.  All I can say to that is…then put some locally harvested seeds in a packet and sell them to me!  

These little packets only cost $2.50 each, not too bad eh?   I hope I can keep these little guys going.  The purple poppymallow grows around here, but I never had the nerve to dig it out of the ditch across from the race track.  It grows low and has really pretty flowers, I plan to plant it out by the mailbox so I can mow over it (when it is established).  Surely it will look better than the weeds we have there currently. 

My next step is to put them in the freezer for a month then plant them in little containers like you do with tomatoes.  I got tons of scarlet globemallow so I can give it to friends and  people who watch my kids from time to time.  I can’t wait to get my camera out…probably next year though.

They are also peddling a $50 native plant book.  That seems like a lot, even to a person who collects plant books.  Aside from that tome, they have tons of books about organic gardening and native plants and medicinal plants and composting and oh, all kinds of neat stuff.  I can’t wait to get into my garden!

Five More Native Plants



  • 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.

A Step Back


First, a note about my sources. I have my trusty out-of-print Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains by Farrar which is an unparalleled source for Nebraska flowers. I own three copies, the nicest one stays in the office, the one with the denim book cover rides around in the car with me, and the one with the bunged up cover is in the kitchen. My second favorite sources are two books by Kelly Kindscher, Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. These delightful books are full of original sources and chock full of information. Melvin Gilmore’s 1914 thesis, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, for (I assume) a master’s degree in Botany from the University of Nebraska is a fun historical perspective on native plants. He did lots of primary research among Indian tribes along the Missouri River. My oddest source is a huge three ring binder I literally had to beg a man to copy for me. Clarence Nollett put together over 450 pages of spectacular information called Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie.  I may very well be the only non-descendant to own the book.  I am unsure, maybe a little skeptical, as to Mr. Nollett’s sources, since he often has information that none of my other books contain.  Finally, I received a copy of Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Phillips several years ago as a gift, and I look forward to really delving into it for the first time.

July 1-41

Now a plug for the place I bought most of these books. The tiny town of Valentine, Nebraska has the best bookstore in the world, well definitely in Nebraska. The Plains Trading Company stocks everything from Harry Potter to Ben Green’s Horse Trading. He has Cather’s complete works and Snyder Yost and John Grishom and Amy Tan. It has the unique feature which keeps a small town (1100 people) book store in business, something for everyone. He stocks a treasure trove of plant, animal and nature books as well as tons of stuff about Indians and cowboys too.

These photos are re-runs but with more information, as promised.

white-eyed grass

  • White eyed grass
  • Previously known
  • Sisyrinchium campestrae
  • Perennial, Iris family, found in the Southeastern Great Plains
  • The leaves come directly from the ground like domestic iris do.  American Indians made a tea from this plant to treat stomach cramps and hay fever



  • Rose
  • Previously known
  • Rosa arkansana
  • Perennial, Rose family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Rose hips or fruits were used as an ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of meat, fat and berries the Indians ate in the wintertime. Many tribes used rose petals in salads and as a fragrance for hair oils and perfumes. The young shoots were used as an herb. The bark, roots, petals, hips and stems were used by different tribes to make teas. I have made rose hip jelly, it tasted a little like apple jelly. Various parts of the rose have been used widely by Indians and pioneers to treat diarrhea as well as a variety of eye problems including snow blindness and cataracts. Rose hips contain an enormous amount of vitamin C, much more than your basic orange.

Prairie ragwort

  • Prairie ragwort
  • Previously known, not researched
  • Senecio plattensis
  • Perennial, Sunflower family, found throughout Great Plains
  • Senecio in Latin means old man. The name refers to a tuft of white hairs at the top of the plant’s fruit. Several species of Senecio grow across the Great Plains.  Lewis’ journal vaguely alludes to Senecio along the Missouri. American Indians used some Senecios to treat a variety of uterine issues. According to Mr. Nollett, it is mildly poisonous to livestock, causing liver damage and a disease called stomach staggers. He also notes that it was used to increase perspiration and treat kidney stones.


  • Onion
  • Previously known
  • Allium canadense in Latin, canadense means northern
  • Perennial, Lily family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Both onions and garlic grow wild in the prairie. They look very similar to each other and also very similar to a plant called Death camas, which is highly toxic. Bear this in mind if you think you see a wild onion. Onions flower though June. American Indians used onions for cooking, in much the same way we do now. Indians used onion to relieve many maladies including coughing, vomiting, sore throats, ear infections, swelling, constipation, colds, headaches and sinus trouble. Explorers ate onions to prevent scurvy. Onions provide a good source of vitamins C and A.

pink poppy mallow


  • Pale Poppy Mallow
  • I knew of the purple variety
  • Callirhoe alcaeoides
  • Perennial, Mallow family, found in undisturbed sites in the Southeastern Great Plains.  A close relative, purple poppymallow is quite showy and grows along road ditches.
  • American Indians cooked the roots like parsnips.  The leaves when cooked are mucilaginous and were used to thicken soups

National Wildflower Week June 2-10


white-eyed grass This is national wildflower week! Did you know that? To celebrate I attended a tour sponsored by the Prairie Plains Resource Institute  Tuesday.  I plan to go on another tour Saturday. PPRI owns several properties across the state that can be accessed at one’s leisure. I learned several things on this first tour. #1 Not many people are as excited to tromp around in the grass as I am. Only one other person showed up, and he was well known to the guides.


#2 It is exceptionally difficult to take a photo of a wildflower during daylight, with a moderately priced digital camera. The sunlight reflecting on the screen makes it impossible to see if you got a clear shot. 

Ratzlaff prairie

#3 I still have my eye. Part of my job used to be driving around in people’s pastures looking at plants. I got to see lots of different places, not just the public access ones.  After resigning in 2004 and really leaving the area where one finds abundant wildflowers in 1997, I was happy to find that I can still spot a tiny flower in the middle of the tall grass. Obviously I could still look at flowers when ever I want, but a lot of the prairie is planted to corn and soybeans around here. Most of what isn’t has been overgrazed and invasive grasses have taken over.

Prairie ragwort

#4 I learned a couple of new plants, new to me anyways.

pink poppy mallow

#5 I can go to these prairies when ever I want, and one is pretty close to my house, so I hope to get some great native grass photos later in the season. You are surely rolling your eyes if you have even made it this far, but I get excited about native grass. I know Nebraska’s main grasses by their Latin names as well as common names. Unfortunately most of the grass around here is smooth brome, it came from Russia, and it wasn’t one of her greatest gifts to the new world. I believe she also sent over leafy spurge, another gift we should have returned unopened.


#6 I am a little out of shape!