R0ADSIDE ATTRACTIONS: SWAMP CANDLES, ST. JOHN’S WORTS & EVENING PRIMROSES

Almost August now and the wildflowers of early  summer are giving way to late season blooms.  Before the full onslaught of goldenrods, here is a selection of yellow flowers that you might see along our roads and in fields now.

Yellow-loosestrifes, Lysimachia species

The yellow-loosestrifes are members of the primrose family. They should not to be confused with – – and are not related to – – the invasive purple loosestrife. How do you distinguish them? it’s in the name: purple vs yellow. Lysimachia species make good garden plants. The common name, loosestrife, may have come from 16th Century English herbalist John Gerard, who wrote about a use of fringed yellow-loosestrife: fresh plants were tucked into the yokes of oxen, “appeasing the strife and unrulinesse which falleth out among oxen at the plough…”

Hummm . . .would it work today?

Lysimachia terrestris is an obligate wetland species, and is the most common yellow-loosestrife. You can find it growing in wet areas and in wet cuts along roadsides. Its common name is ‘swamp candles’ because the plants, which can reach 36′ tall, are unbranched and erect, and they terminate in a long raceme, or spike, of petty yellow flowers giving the appearance of a candle. At the base of each petal there are two red dots.  Lysimachia terrestris is an obligate wetland  species that is native to eastern North America. It’s flowering is on its last legs now, at the end of July.

Two other yellow-loosestrife pecies that occur in Deering are L. ciliata (fringed yellow loosestrife) and L. quadrifolia (whorled yellow-loosestrife). They are not as common in Deering, anyway, as swamp candles.

Whorled yellow-loosestrife is native to Eastern North America and occurs in wet or dry disturbed habitats, grasslands and woodlands.

Fringed yellow-loosestrife was introduced to North America from Europe and today occurs throughout the continent.  It can grow in wet or dry habitats.

St . John’s Worts, Hypericum species

St . John’s Worts (Hypericum species) are members of the family Clusiaceae, the mangosteen family. As is so often the case, this family is primarily tropical, where it is represented by trees and shrubs.

Common St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is frequently found in Deering along roadsides as a tall, unbranched or infrequently branched plant (up to 2 ‘) with from 1 to several large, brilliantly yellow flowers forming near the tip. It’s fairly easy to identify from its stubby leaves and yellow flowers.

Common St John’s Wort is introduced into North America, where it is widespread, from Europe and Asia. It is considered to be invasive. St John’s Wort gets its name from the time of flowering, which coincides with the Summer Solstice (21 June) and Saint John-the Baptist’s birthday (24 June). The plant has been used medically since at at least the 1st AD century, when it was noted by the Greek herbalist Pedanios Dioskourides. Today Common St. John’s Wort is available in herbal shops in various forms and for various medical indications, which include antidepressant, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory,expectorant and tonic for the immune system, used for its alleviating properties.  In recent times it has found its place in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. In numerous clinical double-blind trials against placebo and other antidepressants the whole extract of St.-John’s wort, e.g. as in Jarsin coated tablets, has proved to be just as effective as the other antidepressants for mild and moderate depression, but not for severe depression (Psychiatriki. 2010 Oct-Dec;21(4):332-8).

Hypericum perforatum is just one member of the family Hypericaceae that occurs in Deering, although it is the most conspicuous.  Several species of Hypericum occur in wet areas, but they are smaller plants. I honestly cannot satisfactorily identify all of them. One diminutive species, Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum mutilum) is fairly common, including on some of the rocks in the Deering Reservoir.

One of my favorites, and one that is very easy to identify – – IF you see it – –  is Hypericum gentianoides, or ‘orange grass.’ Orange grass occurs in bare, sandy places and is native to eastern North America, extending to the Mississippi River and beyond, into Texas. The plants do not reach more than 8″ in height. Plants are richly branched and erect; the stems are wiry, the leaves rudimentary, scaly. The flowers are about 1/4″ in diameter and brilliant yellow.  The fruit is a red capsule that terminates each branch. Orange grass is an annual, but tends to come up in the same place as last year. It grows in several parts of Deering (it is blooming now, down in the grass at the triangle at Holton Crossing, and last year there was a quite a lot of it in the sand pit on Clement Hill Rd).

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis

Plants of the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennisi), are common along dry roadsides.  This plant is native to eastern North America but has become widely distributed.

Typically the plants are unbranched and can reach 7′ in height, although usually much shorter.  Flowers occur over the upper quarter of the plant. Often flowers are solitary but several can arise simultaneously from a plant. The flowers measure 1″ – 2″ in diameter; they open widely in evening and are closed during the day. They are pollinated by moths at night, attracted by the lemony scent.  The species name, biennis, implies that the plant requires two years to develop. In the first year a basal rosette, or ground-hugging radial cluster of leaves develops; in the second year the tall spike arises from the rosette and produces the flowers. Evening Primrose flowers from mid summer through into fall. The plant has a fleshy tap-root. A wide range of pharmacological activities have been attributed to Common Evening Primrose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.