Wednesday, November 30, 2011

White snakeroot

Nothing is in bloom in the last of the November woods, except this: white snakeroot - Ageratina altissima (formerly Eupatorium rugosum). It's easy to be dismissive of this ubiquitous wildflower in summer, when its white fluff pockmarks the paths so steadily that you cease to see it. Now, though, it becomes a solitary, stubborn beauty. You look at it, carefully, and perhaps notice it for the first time.

It was thought to cure snakebite - which begs several questions, as its leaves and roots are poisonous and bitter. Hungry cattle who browse it become ill and may die. Their milk - and meat - carries the toxin, tremetol,  to any human who consumes them, causing milk sickness, which can be fatal. Abraham Lincoln's mother  - Nancy Hanks Lincoln - died of it in 1818 (thanks to Elizabeth Royte, fellow Litter Mobster for that botanical trivia).

Things to learn in the woods. Things to learn.

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