Friday, April 30, 2010


 This pretty little pink flower is the bloom of the Mayapple. They grow throughout Eastern North America in wooded areas. This one was photographed in St. Joseph on the walking trail  at my work. While hiking with a group of children I discovered them in bloom. I've hiked this trail for 6 years, in all seasons and this is the first time I was lucky enough to see the blooms. Shows that being in the right place at the right time is what making discoveries is all about. After doing some research I discovered that this pink bloom is rare for Mayapples, they usually have a white to off-white bloom. I am excited that I was able to see pink ones!

  This plant goes by many different names, and it probably depends upon where you live as to what you call it. Some of the more common names are Hogapple, Indian Apple, Umbrella Plant (from the shape of the leaves), Wild Mandrake, Wild Lemon (from the taste of the fruit), and Devil's Apple.
Once established they seem to be prolific. The woods at work are abundant with them, I usually pick one to show the kids up close and then ask them to image that it is natures own umbrella. Think of all the little critters that might find shelter under it's leaves during heavy rains...i.e. mice, insects, etc. They just laugh at the absurdity of the picture they get in their minds. Personally I like the notion that little creatures "might" hunker down under the leaves of this unique plant and wait out a spring storm.

Although the "apple" on this plant is edible it is reported to taste rather bitter. Raccoons seem fond of it and are sometimes seen sampling the berry....which is where this plant derives another common name of "raccoon berry". The root of the plant is poisonous  and can cause inflammation of the skin and eyes. Shawnee Indians would boil the root to make a strong laxative. There are two medications on the market today, one called podophyllin that is used as a strong cathartic, the other is peltatine that is being used as an experimental drug to treat some cancers.

Rumor has it that any woman who pulls up the root of this plant will soon become pregnant. I say leave it be!

Monday, April 26, 2010


  This unusual flower is called Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). They are a wildflower native to Missouri as well the rest of the Midwest and Eastern United States.. You will find them in deciduous hardwood forests growing in moist soil in the undergrowth. They are capable of reaching heights of up to 2 feet, but typically will be 8-12 inches. They are considered poisonous to livestock, which will graze on them if it is the only greens available to them. If you own cattle, sheep or horses that are allowed to graze in timbered areas that feature these flowers, it might be best to not let them graze in these areas until the plants are no longer present. Digging up the plants when they are found can help reduce their numbers if you are concerned for livestock. Otherwise these plants are beautiful and certainly very interesting to look at. The one pictured here was photographed today on a woodland trail behind my office at work. I found 5 total in the woods all within a few feet of each other. Their blooming time is limited to spring here in NW Missouri. In some areas they are capable of blooming throughout the summer. In the fall, bright red berries become evident.

 These plants are perennial and will return year after year. They grow from an underground corm, that resembles a turnip. Long shoots will break through the ground and three leaves will form behind the peculiar bloom-like structure. They will range in color from purple, green and greenish-white. These flowers are easily grown in shade garden and make an interesting addition to your perennial shade garden. The flowers are sure to illicit many comments.

This plant goes by many names, and depending upon where you live can be called, Bog onion, Devil's ear, Marsh turnip, Brown dragon, Indian turnip,Plant of peace and Memory root. Much myth surrounds this interesting plant.....The Meskwaki indians would float the inner seed of this plant around in a cup of water. This was done to decide the fate of sick individuals. If the seed floated and rotated clockwise four times the patient could expect to recover from whatever illness was plaguing them. If the seed sank before completing four rotations it meant the patient would surely perish. The seeds were also ground up and placed in meat. The meat was left outside for the Sioux Indians (the enemy of the Meskwaki indians) to find. Believe it or not the Sioux indians would pick up the tainted meat and consume it, learning too late their mistake when they fell ill and died. They fell for this trick not once, not twice, but over and over again. Apparently never learning the cause of the illness and death of their tribe members. It was discovered if the root was left to dry for up to 6 months it could be ground into a powder and used to make bread. Apparently drying the root releases the toxins and makes it safe for consumption that causes illness or death. A poultice was made from the root and used to treat sores, and even snake bites.Early settlers adopted this practice from the Native Americans. There are many other lores attributed to this plant. Some stated the plant grew at the base of the cross at calvary, and the red streaks are from the fallen blood. Still another lore says that bears which were in hibernation for forty days could eat this plant and and fully recover from their long hibernation.

The design of the plant is very important for protection. The spathe which covers the “pitcher” of the plant protects the flower that is hidden inside at the base of the spadix. This prevents the tube from filling up with rainwater, which would wash away the pollen. Insects, especially gnats, are drawn into the spathe by a fungal smell emitted by the plant. They are attracted to the color of the pollen which covers the floor of the chamber. Because the tube is slippery, insects have a hard time leaving. There is a small flap formed by the leaves that smaller insects can fit through to complete pollination. Larger insects, including flies, however get stuck and often end their life in the base of the plant. Though the shape and design of the plant mimics that of a pitcher-plant, Jack-in-the-Pulpit is not carnivorous. The plant is also able to change sex. Most plants are males that become female in favorable conditions. Because the responsibilities of the female plant (seed production) require strength, plants may never become male or revert back if conditions suddenly change.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Sand Cherry

This beautiful pink flower is the bloom of the Sandy Cherry tree. This unique tree can also be cultivated as a shrub. While not native to Missouri, with beautiful red leaves and gorgeous pink blooms they make a stunning addition to your landscape. Bees are attracted to the highly fragrant blooms. The smell coming from the flowers on this tree is almost intoxicating in their intensity. They grow to be approximately 10 feet tall, and are hardly from zones 2-8. Grow them in full to part sun locations, otherwise if grown in the shade their foliage will change from purple-red to yellow-green. They seem to be tolerant of a wide variety of soil conditions, but prefer well drained soil best. They are prone to various diseases and have a life expectancy of approximately 10 to 15 years.
Japanese beetles are VERY fond of the purple leaf sand cherry, unfortunately. Other pests include peachtree borer, scale, fall webworm, aphids, mealy bugs,and tent caterpillars. Diseases include honey fungus, verticillium wilt, black knot, cankers, powdery mildew, leaf spot, bacterial leaf scorch, and frost cracks.
Over all I would recommend this pretty little tree to your yard. They provide beautiful color and fragrant blooms.

Friday, April 9, 2010


 Second blooming flower of spring. My daffodils finally opened and showed their lovely yellow flowers. Such vibrant color sure puts a smile on my face after such a long cold, harsh winter.