The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
Over the past several months we’ve looked low and high at wildflowers, vines and trees. This post takes us to eye level – in most instances – especially for a 5′ 4″ person like myself. The in between area, sometimes referred to as under story growth, of small trees and shrubs.
Family: Caprifoliaceae Genus: Viburnum; Species: prunifolium
Bloom time – March – May
Tea made from the bark is considered uterine tonic, sedative, anti-spasmodic, and nervine. Research has confirmed it has anti-inflammatory and spasm-reducing properties.
Family: Rhamnaceae; Genus: Rhamunus; Species: caroliniana
Bloom Time: April – June
Fruit begins as red berries which turn black when fully mature.
Bark and berries both cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Japanese Spiraea – Meadowsweet
Family: Rosaceae; Genus: Spiraea; Species: japonica
Spiraea comes from the Greek word sperios (or spiral) which was the root of the word speiraira – a plant which the Greeks made wreaths and garlands. Most plants in this genus have white flowers and those wreaths and garlands were used mainly in weddings. In Britain it was originally called bridewort and is still called bridal wreath in Britain today.
The Japanese Spiraea has lovely rose-pink blossoms.
Family: Lauraceae; Genus: Lindera; Species: benzoin
Bloom time: April
According to Peterson’s Field Guide Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs early land surveyors saw the presence of Spicebushes as an indicator of good agricultural land. Twigs and leaves of this plant are often used for teas and berries are dried and used as a spice. Whitetail deer, cottontail rabbit, opossum, pheasant, bobwhite, ruffed grouse, and numerous songbirds eat twigs or fruits.
Family: Hydrangeaceae; Genus: Hydrangea; Species: arborescens
Bloom Time: May – July
The domestic variety of hydrangea has always fascinated me because of its ‘ability’ to change colors. Based on the soil acidity the blooms can be blue (pH below 7) or pink (pH above 7). The wild variety comes in only one color – white.
Those flowers form umbrella-shaped clusters as compared to the more common round shape of the domestic variety. The outer flower like forms are sterile and only serve to attract pollinators to the inner fertile flowers.
The roots of wild Hydrangeas have been traditionally used for kidney stones and bronchial afflictions. The plant has compounds with anti-inflammatory, diuretic and tumor inhibiting properties research has shown it causes painful gastroenteritis and cyanide-like poisoning. So as with so many lovely wild plants it comes with a warning label – do not ingest any part of the plant.
Wild turkeys are fond of the fruits and while whitetail deer have been known to eat the twigs they are supposedly poisonous livestock.
Family: Polygonaceae; Genus: Fallopia; Species: japonica
Japanese Knotweed flowers are valued by some beekeepers as an important source of nectar for honeybees. At a time of year when little else is flowering, Japanese Knotweed yields a monofloral honey, usually called bamboo honey by northeastern U.S. beekeepers.
It is eaten in Japan as sansai or wild foraged vegetable. Similarly to rhubarb, Knotweed contains oxalic acid, which when eaten may aggravate conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout,kidney stones or hyperacidity.
Japanese Knotweed is an important concentrated source of resveratrol and its glucoside piceid, replacing grape byproducts. Many large supplement sources of resveratrol now use Japanese knotweed and use its scientific name in the supplement labels. The plant is useful because of its year-round growth and robustness in different climates.
Family: Hamamelidaceae; Genus: Hamamelis; Species: virginiana
Bloom time: September – January
The main question that I had about this small tree was how it got its name. In all of the many field guides and books on plants and flowers I could not find that answer. Fortunately, someone had done that research and published it in The Atlantic.
The Mohegans are believed to be the first to show English settlers how to use the Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for dowsing, an ancient method for finding underground water. In fact the name witch hazel is believed to have come from the Middle English “wicke” for “lively” — the dowsing stick bends toward the ground when water is detected below — and “wych,” an old Anglo-Saxon word for “bend.”
Peterson’s guide on medicinal plants and herbs notes that leaf tea from Witch Hazel is widely used as an astringent for piles, toning skin and eye ailments. In addition, the bark and leaves contain Tannins believed to provide its astringent and hemostatic properties as well as antioxidant activity.