Local Walks/Hikes Home 2013 Local Walks/Hikes 2011 Local Walks/Hikes 2009 Local Walks/Hikes Nature Walks Conditioning Hikes Hiking Areas AMC Join
Recent Walks/Hikes (2014) 2012 Local Walks/Hikes 2010 Local Walks/Hikes 2008 Local Walks/Hikes Easy Walks Local Walks/Hikes Authors Photo Gallery AMC Boston

 
The following are 12 sample pages from Never Say It's Just a Dandelion: 125 Wonderful Common Plants for Walkers and Walk Leaders by Hilary Hopkins, Jewelweed Books. Copyright 2001 by Hilary Hopkins. All rights reserved.

  1. Paper/White Birch
  2. Butter and Eggs
  3. Dodder
  4. Duckweeds
  5. Gall-of-the-Earth or Rattlesnake Root
  6. Goldenrods
  7. Grasses
  8. Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  9. Mullein
  10. Yellow Pond-Lily
  11. Solomon's Seal
  12. Yarrow
 
  Paper/White Birch
Betula papyrifera
About the names
  • Paper/White: bark is brilliant white and peels off like paper; Birch comes from Old English word meaning "bright," "white," or "to shine."
  • Betula: name given by Pliny in ancient times, meaning "pitch," since bitumen is distilled from the bark; papyrifera: "paper-bearing."
  • Also called Canoe or Silver Birch.
Memory aid
  • Unmistakable; note that whitish bark of Gray Birch does not peel as does that of this tree.
When in bloom
  • April-May; fruits August-September.
Interesting growth habits
  • Among the first trees to grow in an area that’s been burned or cut over; lives only 60-80 years.
  • Bark has 6-9 layers; color may prevent tree from overheating by reflecting sunlight.
  • Male catkin flowers in groups of 2-3 hang off twig tips when flowering (erect in winter); female flowers grow upright in leaf axils.
  • In bloom, male catkins are three inches long; each makes over five million pollen grains.
Warnings, uses
  • Wood used for ice cream bar sticks, toothpicks.
  • Native Americans used the bark for numerous items: canoes, boxes, cups, house coverings.
"Stories"
  • Leaves have high sugar content, so earthworms enjoy them in leaflitter on forest floor.
  • Tendrils of bark will ignite even when damp, useful when you’re lost and cold in the woods!
  • To make a canoe, stretch big sheets of bark over a framework of cedar and sew them on with spruce roots; seal it with spruce pitch…how many arts we have forgotten.
Do this
  • Admire it! Especially the delightful rosy color of the inner bark, or a grove of them in the snow, against a deep blue sky.
  • Feel the chalky texture of the bark.
  • Look for horizontal marks called lenticels, openings into the bark for exchange of gasses.
  • In winter, look for tiny "angels" or "stars" on the snow near White Birch; these are the seeds, fallen from the catkin-cones.
  • One thing NOT to do is to remove bark from a living tree.


 
  Butter and Eggs
Linaria vulgaris
About the names
  • Butter and Eggs refers to the yellow and orange colors.
  • Linaria means "flax-like," since some of this genus resemble Linaceae, the Flax family; vulgaris means "common."
  • Also called Toadflax, Bread-and-Butter, Eggs-and-Bacon.
Memory aid
  • Few other flowers are so distinctly yellow in one part and orange in another: the butter on your egg yolk (buttered toast and a fried egg).
When in bloom
  • June-October.
Interesting growth habits
  • Looks like a tiny Snapdragon (in the same family); only insects heavy enough to push open the flower can get its nectar and transfer its pollen.
  • "Neither the spade, plough, nor hoe can eradicate it when it is spread in pasture. Every little fibre that is left will soon increase prodigiously; nay, some people have rolled great heaps of logs upon it, and burnt them to ashes, whereby the earth was burnt half a foot deep, yet it put up again as fresh as ever, covering the ground so close as not to let any grass grow amongst it; and the cattle can't abide it." (1758, John Bartram, by 1765 official botanist to the King of England, and botanist extraordinaire in the American South)
Warnings, uses
  • Make a tea with milk as an insecticide.
"Stories"
  • Found on early "garden lists" of the settlers, who brought it over to plant in their dooryards to remind them of home.
  • Orange section of lower lip is a "honey guide" to nectar, visible and attractive to insects. In an experiment, these flowers were placed between sheets of glass; hawk moths homed in on the orange honey guide and pressed their tiny tongues to its location under the glass, leaving the glass marked; when the orange section was removed and stuck on another, different kind of flower, they went for it there too.
Do this
  • Gently make this flower "snap"; use a magnifier to look within for the furry pathway leading straight to nectar and waiting pollen.


 
  Dodder
Cuscuta gronovii
About the names
  • Dodder may come from an ancient Dutch word meaning "yolk of an egg" which would refer to the deep yellow or orange of this plant.
  • Cuscuta is the medieval Latin name for this genus; gronovii is for Jan Fredrick Gronov, a Dutch botanist (1690-1762) who studied American plants and was the teacher of Linnaeus.
  • Also called Hellbind, Lover's Knot, Love Vine.
Memory aid
  • Doddering, rich old man can't stand upright, he's so laden with yellow gold.
When in bloom
  • July-October.
Interesting growth habits
  • Has no chlorophyll, and no leaves, just a few scales.
  • Parasitic; can completely envelop another plant in a spaghetti-like tangle of its orange stems.
  • Although it will germinate in soil, once it attaches with suckers to a host plant, it gets all its nourishment from the host through the suckers, and the roots actually die off.
Warnings, uses
  • Watch your foot, there it comes!
  • Used to treat kidney and liver problems; "an infusion acts as a brisk purge."
"Stories"
  • Here's how to find if your lover is faithful: pick a piece of Dodder while thinking of him/her, toss it over your shoulder into the plants it grows on, and go away for a day; if, when you come back, the Dodder has reattached itself to its host, you can breathe easy; if it hasn't, well...
  • "All dodders are under Saturn...it is the most effectual for melancholy diseases...also for the trembling of the heart, faintings, and swoonings...and for melancholy that arises from the windiness of the hypochondria." (1653, Nicholas Culpeper, who incurred the wrath of the medical establishment by translating their knowledge from Latin into English; unfortunately, he was also deep into astrology.)
Do this
  • Look closely in leaf axils to see if you can find its clusters of waxy whitish flowers, just 1/8 inch wide.
  • Stems twine counterclockwise; look for this.


 
  Duckweeds
Lemna species and other genera
About the names
  • Duckweed: grows in profusion, is eaten by ducks.
  • Lemna: name given to water-plants by Theophrastus (372-287 B.C., Aristotle's successor, who wrote technical works on plants).
  • Also called Duck-Meat, Watermeal.
Memory aid
  • Fills a duck habitat like a weed.
When in bloom
  • Plant appears on ponds in spring.
Interesting growth habits
  • Has no leaves, stems, or real roots, but instead is just one body, called the thallus, with a tiny rootlet hanging free in water.
  • Nutrients absorbed by entire under-surface.
  • Certain species produce the tiniest flowers in the world: these entire plants are only 0.5 or 0.7 mm. wide, and their flowers are only 0.1 mm long-or one-tenth the thickness of a dime!
  • However, they seldom flower, but rather reproduce by simple budding.
  • In late summer, some species produce turions, tiny buds that sink, stay on bottom all winter; in spring produce a single gas bubble that carries them to surface.
Warnings, uses
  • A great meal for wildlife, since not only do they get a mouthful of plant food, but also all the tiny critters living and laying eggs on the Duckweed mat.
  • Cultivated in Asia for high protein content (20%), more than peanuts or alfalfa.
"Stories"
  • Depending on size of species, there may be 100,000 to 2,000,000 Duckweeds per square yard.
  • May be aggressive in ponds due to increased sewage runoff, which fertilizes them.
Do this
  • With a finger, gently lift a few plants from the water and admire their delicate structure.
  • Different genera have somewhat different structures (purple under or not, up to ten rootlets or one, floats on or under surface or even under other Duckweed, round or oval, etc.): see if you can find several of these.
  • If you lift a fairly large number, use a magnifier to see if you can find evidence of the presence of other organisms.


 
  Gall-of-the-Earth or Rattlesnake Root
Prenanthes trifoliata
About the names
  • Gall-of-the-Earth: a mysterious name dating from at least 1567, referring to a plant's bitterness, though not this plant, but rather one said to have been discovered by Chiron the centaur, a physician of Greek mythology.
  • Rattlesnake Root refers to the plant's supposed efficacy against rattlers.
  • Prenanthes means "drooping flower," a perfect description; trifoliata describes the three-parted leaves.
Memory aid
  • The whole aspect of the plant-its fall bloom time, waxy, drooping flower clusters that seem to hug close to the stem, its unexpected appearance by the side of the trail, not showy but obvious when you finally see it-somehow suggests the melancholy name, evoking the sadness, bitterness, gall of life on earth.
When in bloom
  • September-October.
Interesting growth habits
  • The leaf shape is highly variable.
  • Though these are composite flowers, with both ray and disk flowers, unlike most other composites, they look down, away from the sun.
  • Stems contain milky sap.
Warnings, uses
  • Native Americans used root to stimulate milk flow after childbirth.
  • Good for snakebites and dogbites (see story below for why this dual use might come in handy).
"Stories"
  • "The rattlesnake has an utter antipathy to this plant, insomuch that if you smear your hands with the juice of it, you may handle the viper safely. [Do Not Try This At Home] Thus much can I say of my own experience, that once in July, when these snakes are in their greatest vigor, I besmeared a dog's nose with the powder of this root, and made him trample on a large snake several times, which, however, was so far from biting him, that it perfectly sicken'd at the dog's approach, and turn'd its head away from him with the utmost aversion." (William Byrd, 1728) Pretty tough on the dog, not to mention the snake.
Do this
  • Tip flower up; examine parts with a magnifier.


 
  Goldenrods
Solidago species
About the names
  • Goldenrod describes the rod-shaped clusters of bright yellow flowers (note that there is a white member of the genus, called, of course, Silverrod).
  • Solidago: a uniter (to make solid), since it heals up wounds.
Memory aid
  • The name is perfectly descriptive.
When in bloom
  • July-October (depending on species).
Interesting growth habits
  • About 100 species in U. S., 75 in our area!
  • "Distinguishing the various species...often perplexes even the trained botanist"; as a start, there are five shapes the flower cluster may take.
  • Many insects lay their eggs within different Goldenrods, which then produce galls; knowing which insect prefers which species of Goldenrod can help in identification.
  • Each flower head may contain 1,000 flowers.
Warnings, uses
  • Used before and during the Crusades to heal wounds, and Crusaders brought it back to Europe.
  • Used for ulcers, loose teeth, fever, etc. etc.
  • Flowers cooked as fritters or for tea.
  • Flowers make a fine yellow dye.
"Stories"
  • Goldenrod is NOT responsible for fall hayfever! Its flowers are brightly-colored to attract insect pollinators, thus it wants to hold onto its pollen; plants with drab flowers (such as Ragweed) are wind-pollinated (no need to attract insects). But Goldenrod and Ragweed bloom at the same time, and Goldenrod is so highly visible that it gets blamed for all that pollen floating in the air and into your nose.
  • At the time of the Boston Tea Party, the Colonists made "liberty tea" from Goldenrod.
  • England bought lots of Goldenrod from the Colonies, but once it was discovered in England, the bottom dropped out of the market.
Do this
  • Search diligently among the flowers to find the beautiful Goldenrod Spider, blending right in; the Goldenrods host many wonderful insects.
  • With a magnifier, look closely at an individual flower to see both its disk and ray flowers.


 
  Grasses
Gramineae species
About the names
  • Grass comes from an Old English word which is also the root of the words "green" and "grow."
  • Gramineae: from the Latin for "grass."
Memory aid
  • "Sedges have edges; Rushes are round. Grasses have joints (when the cops aren't around)."
When in bloom
  • Any time from April-October; fruits (grain) summer-fall/winter.
Interesting growth habits
  • Stems are hollow between joints; each joint is closely wrapped by a sheath which is the base of the leaf, one leaf to a joint.
  • Branching ("tillering") arises at the base of the plant, so it often makes a rosette or "tussock"; this allows plant to branch even when trod on, grazed or burned to the ground.
  • Found everywhere, even in Antarctica.
  • It has a special type of photosynthesis which enables it to use only about half as much water as other plants need to produce an equal amount of plant material.
Warnings, uses
  • Sugar, wheat, rice, rye, oats, corn, barley, millet, sorghum, bamboo... for building and thatching, for making baskets, oil for cooking, food for birds...and on and on.
"Stories"
  • For humans, the most important of the plant families, since it provides not only all of the grains we eat, but also those eaten by our domestic animals.
  • The world's most widely distributed plant family with the largest number of individuals.
  • What you see may be only 10% of the total weight of the plant; the rest is in its root system, thus conserving water during drought.
  • A 4-month old rye plant grown in a greenhouse was found to have 387 miles of roots!
Do this
  • In spring and summer, use a magnifier to examine the complex, tiny flower structures.
  • In fall, look for the heads of grain-all grasses have them!
  • Also look for the little hairs that form a ring around the juncture of the sheath and the stem.
  • How many different kinds of grass can you find in a small meadow? Try sketching them.


 
POISONOUS Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Arisaema triphyllum
About the names
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit: perfectly descriptive.
  • Arisaema means "Arum blood," Arum being the family name; triphyllum refers to the leaves, each of which is divided into three parts.
  • Also called Indian Turnip, Wake-Robin, Marsh-Pepper, Starchwort.
Memory aid
  • "Jack" standing up in his pulpit, with its little roof sheltering him, is unmistakable.
When in bloom
  • April-June/July; fruit July-on.
Interesting growth habits
  • Jack is the spadix (with tiny flowers at its base); his pulpit is the spathe.
  • Each plant must "decide" every year if it will be male or female; a large plant is usually female because it must make enough energy to produce fruit and seeds.
  • If growing conditions are not good, plant will be male and smaller.
  • In spring, a fungus-like smell attracts insects, which may then drown in the base of the spathe.
Warnings, uses
  • CAUTION Contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause a violent burning sensation if eaten.
  • CAUTION Touching roots causes severe irritation.
  • Root, if and only if thoroughly dried, used as tea for swelling of snake bites, treatment for asthma, headaches; many other traditional uses.
"Stories"
  • Roots used to be used to make starch, but it was "most hurtful to the hands of the laundress that hath the handling of it" (1633), and fashionable gentlemen complained of the neck rash caused by their starched ruffs.
  • It is said that some Native Americans ground up the root, mixed it with food, and presented this to their enemies-who then died horribly.
Do this
  • Look inside plant to see its sex: female has tiny green "berries" clustered around base of column, male has thread-like pollen structures.
  • Look gently in the cup to see if any insects have met their end within.
  • In late summer and fall, look for clusters of large scarlet berries on a bare stalk.


 
CAUTION Mullein
Verbascum thapsus
About the names
  • Mullein: from an ancient French word meaning "soft," in turn derived from Latin.
  • Verbascum: name given by Pliny (23-79 A.D., Roman naturalist, scholar); thapsus: "from Thapsos" (an ancient city in present Tunisia).
  • Also called Flannel-Leaf, Velvet-Plant.
Memory aid
  • Mmmmm...that's soft...mmmmmullein! (lots of words that relate to the concept "soft" come from the same root: mollify, mild, melt, emollient).
When in bloom
  • May-September.
Interesting growth habits
  • Spends first year as an evergreen rosette.
  • Basal leaves are very long (up to a foot), thick, soft as flannel, or maybe rabbit fur.
  • Native to Eurasia.
Warnings, uses
  • CAUTION Contains harmful compounds; also may cause skin irritation.
  • In olden times, winter seed head (to three feet long) was dipped in melted tallow, filling the hundreds of empty seed pods, and set alight as a torch.
  • Native Americans put its soft leaves in their moccasins, a sort of early Dr. Scholl's "pillo-insoles."
  • Seeds were used to stun fish as they swam.
  • Roman ladies dyed their hair with the flowers.
"Stories"
  • In 1879, in an experiment, 20 bottles of 100 seeds of 20 "weed" species were buried; in 2000 22 Mullein seeds germinated from bottle #15.
  • BUT: In Denmark, Mullein plants sprouted from dirt collected from under the foundation of a 650 year old church!
  • "...some think that this herbe being but carryed... doth help the falling sickness, especially ...gathered when the sun is in Virgo and the moon in Aries, which thing notwithstanding is vaine and superstitious." (1597)
Do this
  • Carefully feel the velvety soft leaves (if you have a very strong magnifier, examine the hairs to see the "stars" at their tips).
  • If it's gone to seed, gently shake the top to see the tiny (6.-.9 mm) black seeds; look closely to see the two-part seed capsules typical of its Snapdragon family.


 
  Yellow Pond-Lily
Nuphar variegatum
About the names
  • Yellow Pond-Lily: well, it's a yellow Lily that grows in a pond.
  • Nuphar: a Sanskrit word for Blue Lotus; variegatum means "irregularly colored."
  • Also called Bullhead Lily or Cow-lily; may be called Spatterdock.
Memory aid
  • The name is perfectly descriptive.
When in bloom
  • May-September.
Interesting growth habits
  • Water-Lily stems contain tubes which aid in floating; they also draw gases up from the sediment, which are diffused through tiny openings on the upper surface of mature leaves. In younger leaves, air is drawn into the openings, down the tubes, and into the roots-all of this operating like a pump.
  • Six deep yellow petal-like sepals rise like a cup around the yellow-green bottle-shaped sexual parts, the stigma like a flat disk on top.
Warnings, uses
  • Native Americans gathered the gummy seed pods, dried them, took out the seeds and roasted them to eat like popcorn or grind into flour.
  • The root, crushed and soaked in milk, is useful against beetles and cockroaches.
"Stories"
  • "The Indians eat the roots...which taste like the liver of a sheep. The moose deer feed much upon them, at which time the Indians kill them, when their heads are under water." (1672) (Moose heads under water, not the Indians')
  • One study found that 22 liters of air moved through one stalk in a single day.
  • Numerous insects feed on the leaves, each leaving a telltale shape of hole behind.
Do this
  • If you can reach a leaf, feel it to experience the waxy coating that prevents water-logging and damage to the leaves from pelting rain.
  • If you can't get near the plants, use binoculars to see how many distinct and different shapes have been chewed in the leaves by insects.


 
  Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum biflorum
About the names
  • Solomon's Seal refers to a round scar on the root stock; or possibly that wise King Solomon set his seal on the plant since it was so valuable as medicine.
  • Polygonatum means "many knees [joints]," describing the structure of the root stock; biflorum means "two flowers" since the flowers hang in pairs.
  • Also called Drop-Berry, Sealwort.
Memory aid
  • 2 flowers, 2 berries, 2 S's in Solomon's Seal (and SeSSile leaves [attached directly to stalk], unlike False Solomon's Seal).
When in bloom
  • May-June.
Interesting growth habits
  • Much less common than False Solomon's Seal (q.v.), but they may be found together.
  • Leaves may have disappeared when berries are ripe.
Warnings, uses
  • Used in voodoo practices.
  • Much used for "sealing" wounds, possibly another explanation for its name.
  • Roots contain a chemical compound which has been used in modern medicine (from other sources) to treat wounds and skin ulcers.
  • Roots have been used like potatoes; young shoots, without leaf heads, cooked like asparagus; but berries are not edible.
"Stories"
  • (About a similar European species, 1597) "The root of Solomons Seale stamped while it is fresh...taketh away in one night, or two at the most, any bruise, blacke or blew spots gotten by falls or womens wilfulnesses, in stumbling upon their hasty husbands fists, or such like."
  • "As a remedy for piles: 4 oz. Solomon's Seal, 2 pts. water, 1 pt. Molasses. Simmer down to 1 pt., strain, evaporate to the consistence of a thick fluid extract, and mix with it from 1/2 to 1 oz. Powdered resin. Dosage: 1 t. several times daily."
Do this
  • Look under the leaves to find the pairs of dainty greenish-yellow flowers in spring and pairs of blue-black berries in summer.


 
POISONOUS Yarrow
Achillea millefolium
About the names
  • Yarrow is an Old English name, the derivation of which is uncertain.
  • Achillea refers to the Greek hero Achilles, who is supposed to have used this plant to stem the flow of blood from his soldiers' battle wounds; millefolium describes the thousand leaves the Yarrow appears to have.
  • Also called Bloodwort, Milfoil, Stanchgrass, Nosebleed-Plant.
Memory aid
  • Feathery, lacy leaves look like those of the carrot (same family); think carrot/yarrow.
When in bloom
  • June-September.
Interesting growth habits
  • Forms a pretty ground-hugging green rosette in winter.
Warnings, uses
  • CAUTION May cause skin irritation.
  • CAUTION Contains a toxic compound.
  • When building models, architects use the dried flower stalks to represent trees; no matter how short they are cut, the "branches" still look treelike.
  • Used for generations by many cultures to treat numerous ailments from hemorrhoids to baldness to rheumatism to the common cold.
  • Contains 100+ biologically active compounds.
"Stories"
  • Called Soldier's-Woundwort during the Civil War, for its use then.
  • If you stick a leaf in your nose, turn it around three times (the leaf, not the nose), and your nose bleeds, you will win your love.
  • Zuni Indian fire handlers reported to have used Yarrow topically and internally before handling hot coals.
  • Brought over by early settlers to plant as medicinal.
  • The best story: remnants of Yarrow were found in a 60,000-year old Neanderthal burial, in Iraq.
Do this
  • Crush leaves for distinctive medicinal scent.
  • Use a magnifier to examine tiny flowers.