The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
In taking photographs of various wildflowers, flowering trees, and shrubs there seem to be more yellow flowers than any other color. This week’s blog will be highlighting just a few of them.
The desire to know ‘why’ that makes me want to identify flowers also made me wonder why there are so many yellow flowers. The majority of flowers that require pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds, etc.) are pollinated by bees and bees can see only yellow and blue. As I mentioned in a prior blog less than 10% of all flowers are blue so leaves yellow flowers as bees’ primary source for pollen and nectar.
The Indo-European root of the word yellow is *ghel or *gohl (Yell). The flowers below are just a few that ‘yell’ out for attention to us and to their pollinators. Others have been discussed as part of earlier blogs in this series (or will be covered in later segments).
The first of this week’s wildflowers has perhaps the most interesting background of any that I’ve researched in this series of blogs. This flower grows in waste areas and can flourish in the poorest soils. Just a few of the facts about this common wildflower:
- In ancient Greece its leaves were dried and used for wicks in candles and oil lamps.
- The armies of Rome soaked the stalks in oil and used them for torches.
- Early American settlers used the leaves, since they are highly absorbent, as diapers and toilet paper. (They were likely unaware that its strong anti-inflammatory properties had the added benefit of healing hemorrhoids.)
- An oil from the flowers has been prescribed for earaches.
- Early Americans made a tea from the leaves that, because of its “strong expectorant properties, helped soothe sore throats and relieved coughs and laryngitis”.
- The plant contains Verbascoside, which has antiseptic, anti-tumor, antibacterial, and immunosuppressant properties.
Family: Scrophaulariaceae (Snapdragon Family); Genus: Verbascum; Species: thapsus
Another wildflower has likely been admired more for its blooming habits than its beneficial medicinal properties. This lovely flower’s seeds are high in Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) and are being studied for use in preventing heart attacks and strokes, treating Mutiple Sclerosis, and prolonging the lives of HIV-positive patients; just some of the uses among many potential medicinal benefits of this fatty acid.
These lemon-scented flowers are, in some places, considered one of the early signs which is where part of its common name, meaning First Rose, originates. In The Language of Flowers Penhalions Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose the meaning of its name is stated as ‘early youth’. In parts of Western England it is called Butter Rose because the color is so similar to the farmhouse butter made there.
The other part of its name is derived from the flower’s sunset blooming.
Common Evening Primrose
Family: Onagraceae; Genus: Oenothera; Species: biennis
The next of our common yellow wildflowers gets blamed for a lot of allergic reactions, in the late summer and early fall, which are actually caused by Ragweed. American Indians used all parts of this plant medicinally: flower tea for fevers and snake bites; chewed flowers for sore throats; root for burns; leaves for urinary and kidney gravel (stones). ). In addition to these historic uses, the plant contains Quercertin a compound thought to treat hemorrhagic nephritis.
This wildflower attracts a variety of visitors including bees, beetles and even spiders who stop in to prey on mating beetles and other insects intoxicated by the nectar of the
Tall Goldenrod (a.k.a Canada Goldenrod)
Family: Asteraceae ⁄ Compositae; Genus: Solidago; Species: altissima (or canadensis)
This relative of the Tall Goldenrod gets its name from the unique formation of blossoms on the stalk. Its species Latin name means with pliant or bent stems.
Zig Zag Goldenrod
Family: Asteraceae ⁄ Compositae; Genus: Solidago; Species: flexicaulis
While most of the plants I’ve researched and identified have some medicinal qualities others can be toxic or even poisonous. Some cause rashes or breathing problems others – death. This next flower is so lovely and seemingly harmless it seems unsuitable that, if ingested, it causes intense pain and a burning in the mouth and other mucous membranes; just touching it may blister skin. Even though American Indians poulticed the root for boils and abscesses it is best to ‘Avoid Use’.
Family: Ranunculaceae; Genus: Ranunculus; Species: bulbosus
Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq – no not the silly cat riddle. This concerns the last of our yellow flowers which are all Cinquefoils – meaning they have five petals. In some cases they also have five sepals and five-leaflet leaves. The name comes from the French word for five – cinq.
They are all in the family Rosaceae which means Rose-Like. I learned in the Language of Flowers book that the term Rose was used more widely many years ago than today. Which makes me want to ask, “Does any flower by the name of Rose smell as sweet?”
Family: Rosaceae; Genus: Potentilla; Species: simplex
The second of the Cinquefoils has five rounded petals but is smaller and its leaves are only ‘toothed’ part of the way down. Tannins in the plant create its astringent qualities.
Family: Rosaceae; Genus: Potentilla; Species: candensis
The last of the cinquefoils I’ve identified is the Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil
Family: Rosaceae; Genus: Potentilla; Species: recta
The section of this series, wildflowers by color, ends next week with flowers in the color purple.