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Wildflowers in W.Va. Benefit the Eye and Palate

May 10, 2008
By KENNETH?and RUTH?COBB
There are more than 2,000 wildflowers in West Virginia primarily growing from June through August, although some may grow from May through October.

Some of the more common are black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, wintergreen (Teaberry), St. John’s Wort, black snakeroot (black cohosh), common sunflower, common daylily, early goldenrod, common milkweed and allium tricoccum.

More than 50 percent of West Virginia wildflowers are not native, but were brought over from Europe, Asia and other places. They now grow wild throughout the state.

For many years, people have been interested in wildflowers as food and medicine. Black cohosh and St. John’s Wort, for example, have been used for women’s problems and help with sleeping. Of course, another use for wildflowers is the honey produced by bees. We were lucky to have found some wildflower honey at the Farmer’s Market last year.

According to Norma Jean Venable, of the West Virginia University Extension Service, flower identification is easier if you note the leaf shape and arrangement, the flower type, the presence or absence of distinguishing features (thorns, bracts and stipules), and type of fruit (berry, capsule or nut). Note also the habitat and type of soil where the plant grows. For a detailed description of leaf shapes, etc., refer to the Web site information at the bottom of this article.

Black-eyed Susan (black-eyed Susan Redbeckia hirta) — This familiar bright and sunny plant is a prairie native having golden ray flowers and disk flowers forming a central brown cone. Showy flower heads are 2 to 3 inches wide. Leaves are up to 7 inches long, rough and hairy; upper leaves are often without a stem. Black-eyed Susan grows 1 to 3 feet high in fields, meadows, roadsides and open woods. This biennial plant forms a rosette of leaves the first year and flowers the next.

Queen Anne’s lace (Wild Carrot, Daucus carota) — This member of the parsley or carrot family is one of the most often seen summer wildflowers. The numerous, tiny white flowers grow on an umbrella-shaped structure called an umbel, which is 2 to 5 inches across. Often there is a single purplish flower in the center of the umbel. Umbels, which grow in clusters, eventually turn brown and curve inward, resembling a bird’s nest. The delicate, lacy, 2- to 8-inch-long leaves were used for decoration in England during the reign of Queen Anne, hence the name. This plant, the ancestor of the garden carrot, is biennial, producing leaves and taproot the first year and flowering the second. Blooming from June through September or sometimes until frost and growing 1 to 3 feet tall or higher, Queen Anne’s lace was introduced from Europe. It has a long history as a medicinal plant but should not be consumed because it could easily be confused with poison hemlock.

Wintergreen (teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens) — This viselike plant trails along the ground and as its name implies has leaves that are green year-round. Leathery, oval leaves are 1 to 2 inches long, crowded on the edge of stems that grow about 6 inches tall. In spring, small, white, nodding flowers are in the angle between the leaf and stem. The bright red, round, berrylike fruit seen late summer and fall and lasting through winter attracts attention to the plant. Both leaves and berries, if crushed, have a spicy taste and fragrance. Teaberry extract is used for flavoring chewing gum and candy.

Allium tricoccum (ramps) —One of the first plants that attract people into the woods in the very early spring is Allium tricoccum, commonly referred to as ramps. The word ramps probably came from a prostitution of the word rampion, an old Anglic word for leeks. Ramps are members of the lily family and are in the genus Allium that also is home to Allium cepa, the onion and Allium sativum, garlic. The powerful curative powers of many members of this genus have long been recognized by herbalists and now by even the mainstream medical community.

Most everyone is familiar with the bright, cheerful black-eyed Susan, delicate Queen Anne’s lace, and many people enjoy the taste of ramps in the spring. My sister used to enjoy riding on the farm at Gilman, picking and eating the teaberries. To me, the most enjoyable part of West Virginia’s wildflowers are the variety of scents, the brilliant or subtle interplay of colors, and the cheerfulness of a field of wildflowers. Ken feels the only color needed is green so we have agreed to disagree on gardening.

For those interested in further investigation of West Virginia wildflowers, please see the WVU Extension Service Web site http://www.wvu.edu/agexten/horticult/flowers/wildflwrs.htm. There is a list of bibliography also to help you on your way to an appreciation of West Virginia wildflowers.

Source: Common Summer Wildflowers of West Virginia, West Virginia Extension Services, Norma Jean Venable.

 
 

 

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