Wildflowers


 

hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree

July in Connecticut is an exciting time for me because of all the good wildflowers and insects that abound at this time of year. Insects get more interesting in summer and late summer, especially caterpillars that feed on older leaves. Plus, many birds have fledged their first brood by now, so the young birds are scattering around keeping their parents busy. Flowering trees are few, but in July sumacs, tree-of-heaven and the hardy silk tree bloom from mid to late July.

black walnuts July 2017
Black walnut dropped fruit in July

 

While July is hot and sometimes dry, we have had an abundance of rain so far this year. This is a really good thing because the gypsy moth caterpillars severely defoliated many trees that now need rainfall to help put out new leaves before autumn. We hope next year will have less of these pests, especially since many of the caterpillars were killed by either a fungus or a virus.

bittersweet doing well

Bittersweet decorating a truck

Wildflowers like early goldenrod, swamp milkweed, bouncing bet, monkeyflower and nodding ladies tresses are in bloom now. And the peculiar Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, has popped up, especially under white pines. It occurs in rich, damp forests where there is abundant leaf litter. While this plant may appear to be a fungus due to its white color due to a lack of chlorophyll, it is not. It survives in a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. Blue curls are an interesting wild flower that can form colonies in sandy, infertile soils. Bloom time is normally late July through mid- August. Check out damps areas for stands of swamp milkweed- one of the prettier of the milkweeds, to me. All kinds of butterflies and bees may be seen getting nectar from its flowers.

 

indian pipe

Indian pipe

blue curls Main st power lines August 5, 2012

Blue curls

 

This year Eastern red cedars have put out a bumper crop of fruit, unlike the dismal amount of blue berries produced last year. This is good news for migrating birds like the yellow-rumped warblers that rely of this food as they fly south. And, of course, the cedar waxwings that derived their name from their fondness for cedar fruit, will enjoy any fruit that remains after the migrators have departed.

cedar waxwing fledgling

cedar waxwing just out of the nest

Monarch caterpillars have been spotted, some in later instars, so that is good news for this favorite butterfly. Swallowtail caterpillars are also in later instars, and will have a second generation of butterflies later this summer. Check out small aspens for the caterpillar of the viceroy butterfly. This bird- dropping mimic will win no beauty contests, perhaps, but it is a good find nevertheless. Sphinx and many other moths are flying now, and bats are enjoying them during their night forays. Some of the geometers, or inchworms, have very pretty moths to make up for the drab larval stage.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth

If anyone had their Joe-pye weed leaves chewed badly, it may have been the work of large populations of dusky groundling caterpillars. They are done feeding now, but keep an eye out next year if you had this problem. And aphid populations swell at this time of year as females give birth to live young by the truckloads. Sunflowers and milkweeds are just two of the plants that can have aphid populations that are very high.

dusky groundling joepye

Dgroundling on Joe-pye

Enjoy yourselves out there in the garden, park, or wilds. Look up and down and all around, for things of interest that abound this time of year. And listen for the katydids as they start singing during the hot, summer nights.

Conehead katydid neoconocephalus ssp.

Conehead katydid

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

mullein.greenway.jallen  Photo: J. Allen, UConn

 

Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is, well, common around here.  Right now it’s in its glory, with spikes of yellow flowers standing tall along roadsides and in other open areas.  I really thought this was a native plant, and when I spotted them along this paved trail in central Connecticut and decided to snap a few pics and do a blog on it this week, the idea was to share info on an interesting but often overlooked native.  As usual, I started reading up on it prior to writing and discovered that it’s not native to North America at all. This plants’ native range includes Europe, northern Africa and Asia.  It was introduced in North America very early in the 18th century and by the early 1800s it was widespread and reported as far west as Michigan in 1839 and California in 1876.  Today it is found in all 50 states and much of Canada.

A couple of states, Colorado and Hawaii, list it as a noxious weed. In most cases, common mullein is not considered an important agricultural weed.  This is because it does not compete well with other plants for establishment and is also not tolerant of tilling.  Seed germination occurs on pretty much bare soil, so disturbed areas are ideal sites for colonization.  Speaking of the seeds, they are impressive!!  One notable characteristic having to do with the seeds is the number of them produced by a single plant: 100,000-240,000 of them in a single season (number varies by reference)!  Not only are seeds produced in massive quantities, they can also remain viable and dormant in the soil for over 100 years.  This means that where this plant grows, a huge seed bank can rapidly accumulate.

First year rosette by John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Common mullein is a biennial plant that produces a large rosette of low-growing leaves in the first year and a single tall flower spike in the second year. Rosette leaves can be up to a foot long and are quite fuzzy.  Leaves on the lower part of the flower stalk are attached (no petiole), alternate and decrease in size towards the top.  Flowers are yellow, stalkless, one inch across, and have five fused petals.  Each flower only blooms for one day.  Flowers are produced on the stalk from June through August, or in some areas, September.  Seed capsules are fuzzy and split open at maturity to release as many as 700 or more seeds each.  Most of the seeds fall to the ground within a short distance of the parent plant but some are dispersed by animals, soil movement, etc. Very few animals are known to feed on the seeds, even birds, because they are so tiny.

mullein.flower.jallen  Flower close-up with Syrphid fly. J. Allen, UConn

This plant is a mixed blessing when it comes to the insects that it attracts. Some of them are pests that will also feed on plants in the garden or on the farm.  These include tarnished plant bug and spider mites. Others, though, like the Syrphid fly shown in the photo, are beneficial.  The larvae of the Syrphid fly are predators and will feed on aphids and other tiny, soft-bodied insects.

The reason this plant was introduced into the United States, and probably other areas of the world, is because it has well-documented medicinal uses. Disclaimer: This blog does not advocate the use of plants for these purposes unless a doctor is consulted. Because common mullein was introduced to the U.S. so early, it’s not known whether it was mostly shared with European settlers by Native Americans or the other way around.  A very early record of medicinal use was from Dioscorides about 2000 years ago for treatment of pulmonary diseases, especially coughs. Chemicals in the plant (and tea made from it) include expectorant saponins and emollient mucilage.  Any tea or extract made for the plant needs to be filtered well to remove the hairs that can cause irritation.  Leaves have also been smoked for pulmonary problems.

Some groups have also used a poultice from common mullein for treatment of skin conditions including sores, rashes, warts, hemorrhoids and more. Oil from the flowers has a history of use for many external issues, too.

Other interesting uses for the plant include piscicides (fish killing compounds), shoe insulation, candle wicks, and torches (made from the flower stalk by dipping into suet or wax). Piscicides have been widely used through history for fishing (the toxic chemicals in this case are from the seeds).  The flowers can be used as a source of natural yellow or green dye.

While not planted much in gardens, seeds are reported to be available from a few vendors. Because of the persistence of the seeds, it can be hard to get rid of when needed.  The best method is hand pulling but herbicides can also be used.  This will require some persistence due to the longevity of the seeds left behind.

To finish up, I’ll share some of the other, sometimes fun, common names of this plant: great mullein (commonly used in Europe), cowboy toilet paper (western U.S.), flannel mullein, velvet dock, woolly mullein, and in the 19th century U.S. Indian rag weed, hare’s beard, ice-leaf, blanket mullein, poor man’s blanket, shepherd’s club, feltwort, and Moses’ blanket.

J. Allen

 

Venus looking glass II

Venus’ Looking glass

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

Al Bernstein

 

This spring took forever, it seemed, to warm up, but it did, and just in time. Rains provided a boost to plants that suffered during the drought of last year, and dogwoods, crabapples, azaleas and rhododendrons had fabulous flowers this spring. But now June is here, and yesterday marked the first day of summer, and so we move on to the warmer weather and all it brings with it.

elderberry blossoms 2011

Elderberry flower head

Native elderberries are in full bloom right now and many bushes are covered with the large, white flower clusters. Later on, the dark purple fruits will provide food for many birds and mammals. While edible for humans, and high in vitamin C, most people do not care for the raw fruits, but may make jam or pies from them. And mountain laurels are still in bloom now as well. Some cultivars, such as ‘Kaleidoscope and ‘ Firecracker’ have striking red flowers. Dewberry, a native berry that forms mats sometimes as it creeps along the ground, is in bloom now, and its flowers are important food sources for many native bees and butterflies. Soon to come into flower are the native Canada lily, Indian pipe and native wood lilies. Venus’ Looking- glass, Triodanis perfoliata, is a native purple wildflower that has its flowers along the stem at the leaf axils. Poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, should be blooming now. This native milkweed grows well in wooded, shady areas. Flower heads dangle down, unlike those of most milkweeds. The white flowers are attractive to several moth pollinators.

poke milkweed.JPG

Several insect pests are making their presence known. The infamous 4-lined plant bug, a lime green adult with 4 black lines down its back, leaves behind diagnostic feeding damage that later on will look like black angular leaf spots. They are cosmopolitan in plants they will eat. This year they have been reported feeding on many herbs, dandelions (who cares?!), sunflowers, sedum, and the list goes on. Also, both the Colorado and false potato beetles are mating as we speak, and they seem to be heading for a banner year, population –wise. So crush the eggs as you may find them on any of your nightshade family plants like tomatoes and peppers. Be careful not to crush any lady beetle eggs, though, as the larva will feed on those of the potato beetles.

moutain laurel

mountain laurel cultivar

Colorado potato beetle June 2017pg

Colorado Potato Beetle laying eggs

On a walk along a power line yesterday, I was delighted to see two visitors from the south- common buckeye butterflies. I have not seen these occasional visitors since Hurricane Sandy, so this a good butterfly to keep on the look-out for. Red- spotted purple, viceroys and American lady butterflies should be in the process of laying eggs now, if they haven’t already. I found several tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars also this week. Check out your dill, fennel or parsley, because the black swallowtail butterfly may have laid an egg or two on them, and the caterpillars may have hatched out.

common buckeye June 21 2017 Coldbrook

A visiting common buckeye butterfly

Swamp milkweed leaf beetles are easy to spot with their red and black elytra. Not pests, these chunky beetles are just a colorful splash on a green background. Pine sawyers, longhorn beetles commonly mistaken for the invasive Asian long-horned beetle, are active now. They will often visit newly stained decks until the stain dries out. Dogwood calligrapha beetles, striking in their spiffy black markings on a white background, are out and about on native dogwoods now.

calligrapha

dogwood calligrapha beetle

There are many birds that are now fluttering around trying to keep up with newly fledged young.  Catbirds, robins, red-tailed hawks, Carolina and house wrens, Bob-o-links and some sparrows have a clutch early and some species, like the ubiquitous robins have a second brood. Fledglings are often very loud as they beg for food, and get louder still as mothers withhold food briefly, to teach them how to fend for themselves.

chipping sparrows just hatched 6-6-14

Chipping sparrow nest

we recently had a visitor to our office. A green bullfrog somehow landed in our window well and could not escape. So we managed to catch it and Joan Allen walked it to a nearby pond. Another bit of excitement at work.

froggie in the window.jpg

froggy in the window

As you venture out into the landscape, I hope curiosity will get the best of you, causing you to turn over leaves looking for insects, watching birds as you see and hear them, and bending over to see what is lurking on the ground by your feet. In such a way we become more interactive with the environment and thus, less frightened or at least dismayed by new discoveries. Look stuff up when you find it. Curiosity did not kill the cat, nor will it do likewise to people. Nor has asking questions ever done any harm, at least as far as I know…

P1220437.JPG

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

It’s the very beginning of June in Connecticut.  Since mid May or so, gorgeous patches of pink, purple and white ‘wildflowers’ have appeared along roadsides.  A few years ago, my mom was visiting from Michigan around this time for a graduation.  She has been an avid gardener for many years and when she saw these flowers, she exclaimed, “oh, those wild phlox are just beautiful!”   So even a seasoned gardener can mistake this invasive plant, Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) for wild or garden phlox.

DamesRocket.GarlicMustardJAllen  J. Allen photo

Relatively speaking, Dame’s rocket (other common names include dame’s violet and mother-of-the-evening) is a newcomer to the status of invasive plant so its impacts on native species are not well studied.  It is known that it effectively forms monocultures where it has escaped from cultivation, is a prolific seed producer, and is not kept in check by pests or diseases in North America.  It is still readily available as seed commercially but is banned as an invasive in some states including Connecticut and Massachusetts. This means it cannot be bought, sold, cultivated or moved within these areas.   Unfortunately, it is still commonly included in ‘wildflower’ seed mixes for gardens in other parts of the United States.  According to a USDA distribution map, it is found throughout the continental U.S. except for the most southern parts and much of Canada.

Where did it come from?  It was introduced as an ornamental from Eurasia in the early 1600s so it’s had plenty of time to become established.  Dame’s rocket is in the plant family Brassicaceae so is related to the mustards, cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.  The leaves, oil and seeds are edible and the plant is cultivated for its oil which is used in perfumes. Young leaves are a good source of vitamin C and they can be used in salads.  Speaking of perfume, it’s reported that the flowers of this plant produce a stronger scent in the evening.

DamesRocketLeavesJAllenDamesRocketFlowersJAllen J. Allen photos

Characteristics that can help identify Dame’s rocket include branched clusters of white, pink, and purple flowers that are about 3/4-1″ across and have four petals.  True phlox flowers have five petals. In addition, true phlox (wild) flower later in the season.  The leaves of Dame’s rocket are alternate, lance shaped and have serrated or toothed edges as shown above. In addition, leaves (except for the lowest on the stem) are directly attached to the stem and have no petioles. In contrast, true phlox have opposite leaves.  I’ll pop in a photo of true phlox below so you can see the leaves and flowers together.

 Wild blue or woodland phlox (Phlox divaricatahttps://en.wikipedia.org photo. This species is native to eastern North America.

Another distinctive feature of Dame’s rocket is the long, spindly seed pod (silique).  These form from the bottom of the flower cluster upward, so the youngest flowers (formed over a 4-6 week period) are at the tops and produce seed pods last.  Seeds and pods mature over the summer and when dry they split open releasing seeds into the soil.  Some are eaten by birds allowing for longer distance dispersal.  Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds which can remain viable in the soil for many years.

Dame’s rocket seed pods (siliques) on the left (Mark Frey, The Presidio Trust , Bugwood.org.  First year rosette on the right (Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org).

This plant is considered a biennial or short term perennial.  The first season of growth from seed produces a low-growing rosette of leaves which survive and remain green through the first winter.  The next season a 2-4′ flower stalk is produced as shown above.  This will dieback in the fall and some plants will produce new flower stalks in the third year.   The plant appears perennial where established in part due to the large seed supply that is produced annually.

It’s hard to want to destroy such a beautiful plant but if removal is required the methods include mechanical (pulling), burning, or herbicide applications (useful for large populations).  The best time to pull plants is in spring before seed pods mature.  Seeds can still ripen on plants pulled at this time using nutrients from the stems and leaves so for effective eradication, bag or burn the plants and remove them.  If not feasible, pile the plants in the center of the area where there is likely to be a lot of seed in the soil already.  The pile can be covered with black plastic to heat the pile and kill some of the plants.  A good approach for herbicide use is to apply to rosettes in early spring or fall to avoid injuring desirable plants nearby.  In early spring they will not have germinated yet.  Temperatures should be at or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

J. Allen

 

 

“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017

 

May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area

 

Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.

 

Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.

 

Pamm Cooper

bloodroot (2)

Bloodroot

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still…”

Robert Frost

After an extremely dry 2016, spring is already bringing abundant showers here in Connecticut. Vernal pools in most areas have reached their full capacity of rainwater and snow melt. Streams are running strong and ponds that were so low last year are filling up. The warm February weather almost tricked some plants into budding out too early, but the snow and cold that came in early March nipped that process in the bud. Phoebes who had returned in early March were greeted with a foot of snow and freezing temperatures. But they survived. Now we are seeing April return once again, and with it should follow the heralds of warmer weather and longer days.

trout lilies Pamm Cooper photo

Trout lilies in open woods in April

Native willows and maples, such as the red maples, are blooming now and early native bees are availing themselves of the pollen and nectar they provide. Colletes inaequalis– small, handsome ground-nesting bees- are emerging from their winter pupation homes in the soil, where they have lived all their pre-adult lives. They are important pollinators of many early- flowering native plants and often form large colonies in open areas of lawns with sandy soils. They seldom sting, and by the time grass is mowed for the first time, these bees are usually no longer flying in lawn areas. Females dug holes, bring in pollen and nectar they put in a “cellophane “ bag they make, and lay an egg on top. The larva feed on that supply until they pupate, and will emerge as adults the next spring. Queen bumblebees should be out and about any time now as well.

Colletes inaequalis bee covered in pollen- willow 4-3-2017

Native Colletes inaequalis bee foraging on a willow flower

Spring peepers, out in late February for about a day just prior to a snow and freeze, have been giving a nightly chorus now for a couple of weeks. Wood frogs are singing and should be laying eggs any time now, along with spotted salamanders and the American toads.  Check out vernal pools for the floating egg masses of the wood frogs and the rounded masses of the salamander eggs stuck to twigs, stems and leaves under the water surface.

vernal pool reflections in April Pamm Cooper photo copyright 2017

Reflections on a vernal pool- with wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and young spotted salamander larvae swimming on right

Red trillium, Trillium erectum, should bloom around mid- April, if not before.  Tiny bluets, bloodroot and trout lilies also bloom April to May here. Bluets are also an important source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators and spring- flying butterflies such as the spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dead nettles bloom by late April and receive visits from nay pollinators including honeybees, bumble bees and other native bees, syrphid and other flies and some butterflies.

Red trillium April Pamm Cooper photo

Red trillium

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs for a while, and the one that sings the most- all day- is the song sparrow. Males sit on the tops of small trees and shrubs, singing to announce their territory and to find a mate. The wood ducks are here now. Look for them in woodland ponds where there is good cover from shrubs and small trees along the water’s edge. These are very shy ducks and often take flight at the tiniest snap of a twig, so stealthy moves and quiet are the way to see them. Check out the trail behind the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park in late April. You may get to see small flocks of glossy ibis in the salt marsh area as they migrate through on their way north.

song sparrow april 13 2016

Song sparrow with its rusty breast patch

Mourning cloak butterflies may been seen now, especially where trees have sap flows from splits or wounds to the bark. They are seldom seen on flowers, but will obtain nutrients from dung, sap, mud and fermenting fruits. Eggs are laid in rings around twigs of willow, elm and poplars among other woody trees.

Mourning cloak on sap flow from freshly cut tree stump in early April

Mourning cloak butterfly obtaining sap in April from a freshly cut tree stump

bumblebee on purple deadnettle

Bumblebee on dead nettle flower

When you go out, listen for the raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers as they find mates and establish territories. Don’t forget to look down occasionally and you can find all sorts of insects and plants that might be missed otherwise. And check out the flowers of skunk cabbages for the insects that pollinate them. Stop, look and listen whenever and wherever you go, even if it is in your own backyard. Maybe you will agree with Albert Einstein-

“ Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

 
Pamm Cooper                                 All photos copyrighted by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a fondness for teasel (Dipsacus species) because it was common in the area where I grew up in southwestern Michigan.  Of course, I didn’t know then that it was invasive, or even what an invasive species was.  Now, on road trips between Connecticut and Michigan, I watch for the distinctive flower heads as we drive along.  I’ve never spotted teasel in Connecticut (or elsewhere in the northeast) but according to references I’ve checked, it does occur throughout the area.  There are two species that occur in the United States, D. fullonum (common teasel) and D. laciniatus (cut-leaved teasel).  Common teasel is, not surprisingly, the most common but cut-leaved teasel is described as more aggressive in its establishment and spread where it occurs. teasel-jallen J. Allen photo

If you’re not familiar with teasel, it is distinctive due to its coarsely spined flower heads, pictured above. The plants are herbaceous biennials.  During the first year of growth, a leaf rosette is formed.  In the second year, a tall (3-8 feet), prickly stem forms.  It branches at the top and forms egg-shaped flower heads.  Tiny flowers emerge first in a band around the center of the flower head and develop both up and down from there.  The prickly dried flower heads can be used as a comb and were widely used in the plants native range for combing, cleaning and raising the nap of fabrics, especially woolens (sample device pictured below from the Trowbridge Museum website). teasel-handfabricnap-trowbridge-museumThe root system has a substantial yellow tap root with fibrous secondary roots.  Seeds are attractive to birds and wildlife.  Where teasel is native (Europe, Eurasia and northern Africa), it is recommended for gardens both as an ornamental and as an attractant for birds (ie the European goldfinch) and wildlife.  The dried flower heads are sometimes used in the floriculture trade.

A fascinating attribute of teasel is that the plants are considered partially carnivorous. Carnivorous plants are those that are able to trap insects or other tiny animals and digest them or extract nutrients from them to use as a source of sustenance.  In the case of teasel, the leaves on the stem formed in the second season are fused where two opposite leaves meet on the stem. This forms a small ‘cup’ where rain water collects and tiny insects are caught there.  In a study done in the UK by Peter Shaw and Kyle Shackleton and published in 2011, it was shown that common teasel plants with dead fly larvae placed in the water in the ‘cup’ had a 30% greater seed set and seed biomass than plants with no larvae.  While the larvae did improve seed production, they did not see an increase in overall plant growth/biomass.

To distinguish between common and cut-leaved teasel, both the leaves and flower heads can be used. See the images below for comparison.

teasel-common-leaves-bugwoodteasel-common-flower-bugwood Common teasel leaves and flower heads.

teasel-cutleaved-bugwoodteasel-cutleaved-flower-bugwood Cut-leaved teasel leaves and flower heads.

All above photos from: ©Richard Old, XID Services Inc., Bugwood.org

The first report of common teasel in the U.S. was dates back to the 1700s but no additional reports are known until the 1800s when it was described in Oregon, Michigan, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Since that time, it has spread and been confirmed throughout the contiguous states except in the northern great plains and the southeast.  Cut-leaved teasel was reported from Michigan and New York prior to 1900.  Both species are considered invasive in the U.S. but without a legal status.  While described as being ‘invasive’, states don’t necessarily have a legal status limiting the distribution of these plants. Connecticut does not.

Besides using the dried flower heads, root extract has historically been used to treat a variety of ailments including stomach upset, pain, inflammation, nervous system maladies, and most notably, and more recently, in the treatment of Lyme disease. It is reputed to draw the bacterial pathogen causing Lyme disease out of tissues where it is protected from antibiotics into the blood stream where it is susceptible to them and to the body’s immune system. This is NOT a recommendation to use teasel in the treatment of Lyme disease in the absence of treatment by a medical professional.

J. Allen

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