Before I post today’s flower, just a bit of an update on my piece on suicide, now on my editor’s desk.
I hoped it would provide fodder for a lively debate and on Facebook it certainly did. Perhaps 20 or so comments, all well-thought-out and reasonable. Here’s one such.
A veritable sea of invasive and poisonous white snake root. Went out to Frances Slocum in a light, steady rain. Those who restrict their nature visits to sunny, warm days miss a whole different side of nature, the difference in the hushed, glistening world, the crystalline air, the minute details standing out, the silence, and the peace.
White snakeroot is herbaceous plant that belongs to the family of daisies. It originates from eastern parts of North America. White snakeroot can be found in forests, wooded pastures and thickets. It grows on fertile, moist soil, exposed to direct sunlight or in the partial shade. White snakeroot is poisonous plant that can induce death of humans and domestic animals. Man-made variety of white snakeroot, known as “chocolate” is often cultivated in ornamental purposes because of its decorative, large, dark brown leaves.
White snakeroot has fibrous and coarse root that grows close to the surface of the ground.
White snakeroot produces large (7 inches long), broadly ovate leaves. They are toothed on the edges and end with pointed tips (morphologically very similar to leaves of nettle). Leaves are oppositely arranged on the stem.
Flowers of white snakeroot are gathered in dense, rounded clusters that can be seen at the end of the branches and on top of the stem. Individual flowers are small, white-colored and fuzzy, due to centrally positioned hairy protrusions.
White snakeroot blooms from August to September. Flowers contain both types of reproductive organs. They are able to perform self-pollination in the case that butterflies (main pollinators of this plant) are not available.
Fruit of white snakeroot is miniature, seed-like achene covered with white bristles. Seed is black in color.
Hairs on the surface of seed facilitate dispersal by wind.
White snakeroot propagates via seed and cuttings.
Tremetol is toxic substance found in the stem and leaves of white snakeroot. Even the small doses of this substance can be deadly for cows, sheep, goats and horses.
Consumption of milk obtained from cows whose diet was based on white snakeroot can induce disorder known as milk sickness (tremetol poisoning) in humans. Typical signs of intoxication include vomiting, constipation and weakness. Milk sickness may end up fatally.
At the beginning of the 19th century, thousands of people died as a result of milk sickness on the American Midwest. Mother of Abraham Lincoln is one the people who died after consumption of the intoxicated milk.
Calves and lambs can also die after consumption of intoxicated milk even though adult animals (cows and sheep) do not show typical signs of intoxication.
White snakeroot is equally deadly in the fresh and dry form. Tremetol does not undergo process of degradation after wilting of the plant.
White snakeroot is used in folk medicine in treatment of fever, diarrhea and kidney stones. Poultices made of root can be used as first aid for the snakebites.
White snakeroot is perennial plant, which means that it can survive more than 2 years in the wild.