Monday, June 27, 2011

White Snakeroot and the Doctrine of Signatures

Not Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but today's title reminds me of that movie name.  At the plant rescue the other day, I asked my native plant mentor how this False Solomon's Seal we were harvesting, got its name.  She said scars on the root of Solomon's Seal supposedly looked like the seal of Solomon.  And False Solomon's Seal was just something of a look a like.  Then 3 dreaded words - "your homework tonight"   AGH!  "Since you're so interested in plant names, look up  'the Doctrine of Signatures'.  Today while checking up on the newly planted natives, I saw all that White Snakeroot growing in my "wild area".  And that got me to thinking, how did snakeroot get is name?  And then I realized I hadn't done my homework. 

Largely using Wikipedia, I see the Doctrine of Signatures is a philosophy still used today.  It was started by some very old dudes, way before the Gregorian calendar was started.  In a nutshell, the doctrine said that parts of herbs that looked like parts of the body, could be used as medicine to help cure whatever was wrong with that particular part of the body.  Snakeroot was used by Native Americans as a treatment for snakebite.  Ah ha!  But before you run out and brew up some snakeroot tea for your next snakebite, STOP!  Snakeroot is poisonous.  People got very sick when they drank milk from cows who used to eat a lot of this.  It has been reported that Abraham Lincoln's mother died from this "milk sickness".  Do NOT used Snakeroot for your ailments.   A few other plant names resulting from this philosophy include toothwort, liverwort, and our beloved Bloodroot, but don't try thse plant "remedies" at home.    Enough homework for now.

Bloodroot Seedling in tree stump
Fun little discovery;  I was pulling up the Snakeroot near an old tree stump, and there poking up from one of the cracks in the rotted wood, was a single, solitary Bloodroot.    We are fortunate to have a lot of Bloodroot in our yard.  The title picture for this blog was taken on our property.  A bird or some other creature, deposited a seed in this piece of rotting stump.  Now, this little guy may or not survive here, but it  sure is interesting to see how our native plants find their own homes. 

Amazing!  Two years ago shortly after my first Native Plant seed collecting volunteer session with the Wood County Parks, I decided I'd collect my Columbine seeds at home.  Then I'd sow them in flats and get lots of Columbine to plant around the yard.  I dutifully collected seeds, stuck them in a paper envelope, and put them in the refrigerator.  Then I forgot about them.  Now two years later, I find them.  I didn't want to take the time to sow them in flats and carefully tend to them until transplanting time.  Oh well.  Several weeks ago, I sprinkled them into a shady foundation bed in the front.   I couldn't believe it.  Today I noticed dozens and dozens of tiny little Columbine sprouts. 

Columbine leaves
I've collected a lot of seed from this year's Columbine blooms.  In spite of taking so many seeds, as I walk by brushing the plants, I can hear more of the tiny black seed falling down through the leaves, some onto the front walk.  Soon, I'll cut the scraggly plant tops off just to tidy them up.   At this point in the early summer the lower leaves remain quite striking.

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