Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Western Yarrow

Western Yarrow blooms throughout Kansas from July to September. The plant is found scattered in fields, open woodlands, and along roadsides. In richer soils, it grows to 36 inches. The flowering head consists of multiple white florets with yellow centers, giving the appearance of a bride's bouquet.

Western Yarrow, Greenwood County, 2013

The scientific name, Achillea millefolium, is from the legend of Achilles, the Greek warrior killed at Troy by an arrow in the heel. Ancient Greeks used the crushed leaves of the Yarrow to stop the bleeding in wounds.

Yarrow has other medicinal properties. It contains flavonoids, which function as antioxidants while increasing saliva and stomach acid This helps to improve digestion. In addition, yarrow boosts vitamin C and helps fight colds. Yarrow will also relax the muscles of the intestine and uterus, relieving stomach and menstrual cramps. Therefore, use by pregnant women should be avoided. Finally, yarrow reduces anxiety and therefore helps to induce sleep.

The yarrow is related to the aster family.

Read more at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

close up of Western Yarrow, Greenwood County

Read more flavanoids.

Western Yarrow flower

Sunday, September 8, 2013


The website, part of the Kansas State University libraries, identifies at least five species of thistle growing in Kansas. These include the wavy-leaf, tall, bull, musk, and Russian thistles. The wavy-leaf and tall thistle are native species, while the bull, musk, and Russian are introduced species. The native species are generally controlled by insects and disease. Non-native species are usually considered noxious weeds.

 I am not good enough to differentiate all of the species, I will leave that to the botanists.

Thistle with Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio troilus
This image in September of 2013 was taken near the Wichita airport in a habitat area next to Cowskin Creek. A beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly took a moment to rest while I took this shot.

Thistle at Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas
A second image was taken at Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas.

Thistles are commonly found in fields, but they can also be found in a clear patch in woodlands.

Anyone who has been to a bird shop knows that songbirds love the tiny black thistle seed. Cattle avoid eating the thistle because of its formidable spines which are sharp to the touch. All types of insects will gently rest on the head to taste the nectar, and, in the process, pollinate and fertilize the flower.

Native American Indians used the root of the thistle as a tea and an eye wash.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Leavenworth Eryngo

There are almost 250 species of the plant genus Eryngium throughout the world. This one, Leavenworth Eryngo, is named for Melines Conkling Leavenworth (1796-1862), an army surgeon, explorer, and botanist who discovered the plant on his botanical explorations in Indian territory.

Leavenworth Eryngo, at Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas 2013

In 1817, Dr. Leavenworth graduated Yale Medical School. For a time, he was head of the Botanical Garden attached Yale. Following his army commission in 1833, he began his botanical explorations, which were conducted in the south and in Indian territory.

Though the flower looks like a thistle with its spikey leaves, actually, it is a member of the parsley and carrot family. As an herb, it has certain medicinal properties. (See WebMd.)

Eryngo (Eryngium, the genus name) refers to the pointed leaves and the dense clusters of flowers on the bracted flowering head.

The term 'Eryngo' may come from the Greek  erugarein, ‘to cure belching'. Greek physician Dioscorides, who wrote De Materia Medica, recommended the root to ease gas. Source, Eat the Weeds.

Leavenworth Eryngo,
Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas
 August 2013

This annual plant grows to 3 feet, towering above the native prairie short grass. A single erect stem ends in a single flowering head, but multiple branches extend laterally on which are additional flowers. It is found on dry rocky prairies. grasslands, and roadside fields, but can be observed near rocky lakes as this one was at Lake Eldorado in Butler County.

Leavenworth Eryngo, stem with flowering heads

The distinctive flowering head resembles a pineapple. There are spiked leaves below the florets and above. The flower turns from green to white and purple as it matures.

Flowering head of Leavenworth Eryngo,
Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas
Flowering bracted head of Leavenworth Eryngo

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kansas hay

Hay at Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas
Late August 2013 in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Summer is ending gracefully. The weather has been unusually rainy and cool. This is good for farmers, but makes for an abnormal number of mosquitoes and chiggers, not to mention poison ivy that grows like Jack's beanstalk. A walk through the prairie grass in the Flint Hills is beautiful, but there is 'hell' to pay for in bites and scratches.

In Kansas, the combines reap the summer hay for winter fodder. Not being a farmer, I wonder what these giant rolls sell for. The answer - For sale by H. Lang of Overbrook, Kansas "350 clean bromegrass big round bales 1300-1500lbs. $65 each. No delivery. Will load from field."

Lest we think that harvesting of  summer hay is a new phenomenon, let us remember buffalo roamed the Kansas prairies for millennia before the farmer came. Once 50 million strong, buffalo herds ranged from Canada to Texas, acting like one giant continuous lawnmower stretching across the prairie for miles, traveling north to south, and back again, through the seasons. And when the buffalo didn't finish the job, trillions of grasshoppers might suddenly appear and finish the task.

Summer hay bales of grass and wildflower dot the Kansas landscape, like so many toys left behind by the child of a mythical titan. What game are they playing? Marbles?

This has been a particularly wet summer for Kansas. The prairie grasses and wildflowers have been abundant. But, the prairie hay needs to be cut soon or it will stem and lose quality. Any gardener who has waited too long to pick the lettuce knows that.

Hay and Tobie

Saturday, August 10, 2013


August in Kansas, Snow-on-the-mountain is in full bloom in the Flint Hills, taking refuge in the limestone rocks and dotting the deep grass along Kansas roadsides.

Snow-on-the-mountain, Greenwood Co., Ks.

This plant is related to the poinsettia and, when seen in profusion from a distance, its variegated leaves and white flowers give the appearance of snow on the mountain.  

Beware, snow-on-the-mountain exudes a milky sap that causes skin irritation similar to poison ivy. Cattle avoid snow-on-the-mountain because of its bitter taste.

The plant is a member of the spurge family. The common name "spurge" comes from the Middle English and Old French espurge, meaning"to purge", due to the use of the sap as a purgative. The plant and its medicinal properties was known in Roman times as early as Caesar Augustus. The botanical name Euphorbia derives from Euphorbus, a Greek physician, who used a species of the plant as a laxative.

The plant grows 12-40 inches in height. A single stem may branch into three flowering heads. The variegated bracts next to the flowers serve the function of attracting bees and other pollinators.

Snow-on-the-mountain flower

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Purple Prairie-clover

Purple Prairie-clover Dalea purpurea

Bean Family, Perrenial, 1-2 feet in height

Purple Prairie-clover near Atchinson, July 2013
Many flowering stems grow from a single base. Leaves are narrow. Tiny florets open on a conical head from base to the top of the cone. Often the stamens will have a golden color in contrast to the purple flower.The flowers attract many insects. Like other legumes of the bean family, the Purple Praire-clover is good for the soil and adds nitrogen. Other legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, mesquite, soybeans, and peanuts.

Blooms in June and July.

The Purple Praire-clover can be found in short grass country where the land is too dry for farming.

Purple Prairie-clover with golden stamens

The White Prairie-clover is similar, but with white flowers and larger leaves.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grayhead Prairie Coneflower

Grayhead Prairie Coneflower Ratibida pinnata

The blossom of the Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida pinnata has 3 to 15 yellow flowers. The central disk of the head is ovoid, with up to 400 or more florets. These fertile disk florets are frequently purple.This image was taken at Lake Kahola in Chase County.

Family: Asteraceae - Sunflower Family
Flowering Period: June, July, August

 Native Americans used the root to treat toothaches.

Prairie Cone Flower at Lake Kahola

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wild Bergamot Bee-Balm

Wild Bergamot Bee-balm, Lyon Co, Ks.

Wild Bergamot Bee-Balm is a perennial and member of the mint family, growing 2-4 feet in height. Toothy leaves alternate on upright stems. Purple tubular flowers radiate like so many horns on a round head with purple leafy bracts.

The flowering head is dotted wity glands that secrete aromatic oils. The fragrance has a citrus smell similar to that of bergamot oranges. Leaves make an aromatic tea. Medicinal uses include relief from fever, sore throat, bronchitis, fungal infections, and hookworms.

Blooms in June and July.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa

Butterflies of all kind perch on top of the floral bouquet. Each individual floret has five petals and is shaped like a tulip. A vertical slit allows the butterflies foot to slip inside detaching pollen. Leaves are lance shaped and alternate along a hairy stem.

Although this is a Milkweed, it has no milky sap.

Medicinal Uses

[Warning, don't think about trying this yourself!]

The Butterfly Milkweed root has medicinal uses. Native American Plains tribes including the Omahas, Poncas, and Dakotas; and Menominis from Wisconsin all used the plant. The root was chewed to treat throat and lung ailments. The root could also be chewed and applied to cuts and sores. The root was dried and pulverized for later use. European Americans recognized the plant's medicinal properties, nicknaming it Pleurisy Root.

The root also acts as an emetic. It has been used to treat colic, act as a contraceptive, and treat diarrhea.

The U.S. Pharmacopoeia listed the plant from 1820 to 1905 and the National Formulary from 1916 to 1936. The active compounds in milkweeds include cardiac glycosides which are poisonous to humans and cattle.  Monarch butterfly caterpillars utilize these chemicals for their own protection.

Images were taken at Lake El Dorado June 22, 2013.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sulphur Cinquefoil

Sulpher Cinquefoil, Wichita near the airport,
on abandoned railroad track, June 2013

Sulfur cinquefoil, Potentilla recta, Rose family (Rosaceae)

This Kansas wildflower has pale to bright yellow (sulfur-colored) flowers with 5 heart-shaped petals. There can be one to several hairy stems per plant and numerous leaves on the stems, 5 to 7 leaflets with distinctly toothed edges. Sulfur cinquefoil (five petal) is a perennial. It can spreads by seed and also reproduces through new shoots emerging from its woody root crown. Stems sprouting from the central woody crown will, over time, separate into individual plants. Plants can live up to 20 years. Blooms in may and June.

Wildlife and livestock will graze the plant, but it is not preferred due to its tannin content, an astringent. Native Americans applied the crushed leaves and stems of sulphur cinquefoil to open wounds and sores.

Sulpher Cinquefoil, flower

Habitat includes sunny pastures and prairie fields, vacant lots, gravelly areas along railroads and dirt roads. This plant prefers disturbed ground with alkaline soil.