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