Where the wildflowers are: Know which ones to spot at Thornwood

HANCOCK COUNTY — Last year the cattle were booted out of Thornwood, and with them gone, the wildflowers were able to grow without being eaten. Some of the wildflowers had been identified, but I invited the Hancock County Master Gardeners (go, team!) to come out on a Wildflower Discovery Walk. Thanks to their help, we now have 37 kinds that we know to be growing at Thornwood.

There are more to be found, but catching them is almost like trying to pick a good day to look at the fall leaves; it’s the luck of the draw. Today we’re going to go over some of my favorite plants, which are also growing in my garden, and any uses they had in the past.

Bloodroot

This plant grows to about nine inches tall. The flower is white, with 8 to 12 petals and a yellow center, and is short-lived. It will bloom in late April and into May, mostly in places with dappled sunlight. It gets its name from the rhizome (the part underground); if you cut or squeeze it, a blood-like liquid comes out.

In bygone days the Indians used this fluid as a body paint (don’t try this at home, kids; it’s harder to get off than magic marker) and insect repellent. Combined with oak bark, it was also used to dye clothing. Pioneers also used it to dye clothing, but they discovered that dripping the liquid onto a lump of sugar would ease sore throats and coughs (again, don’t try this at home), as it is similar to morphine.

Mayapple

This is the most likely the most recognizable plant in the forest. (Think of a palm tree.) It grows up to 18 inches tall and has a single creamy-white flower that grows on a single stalk. You have to look for it, as it is hidden under the leaves. It needs to be noted that the flower only grows on the plants that have two leaves.

All parts of the mayapple are poisonous except the fruit, which can be made into a jelly. The rhizome has been used in the past to treat various ailments including diarrhea, skin disorders and snake bite, among others.

Some mushroom hunters insist that morels are found where mayapples grow. I was told this when young, but seeing as how mayapples grow in such a wide area, it would be hard to avoid it.

Dutchman’s breeches

I included these together because if you find one, you generally find the other.

Between the two, Dutchman’s breeches are the plants you will find the most of.

They get their name from the flower that hangs from a stem and looks like old-fashioned pantaloons.

The flowers are snow-white to a pinkish color. Pioneers used parts of the plant to treat urinary disorders.

Squirrel corn

Squirrel corn flowers are heart-shaped and a pinkish white. Both plants grow to 6 to 10 inches tall. Squirrel corn gets its name from the tiny tubers underground that look like little yellow peas.

I guess “squirrel peas” didn’t make a good name.

Trillium

Toadshade trillium, nodding trillium and purple trillium are just three of the six members of the trillium family.

Toadshade grows to about 10 inches. The green leaves are mottled up to four inches long, and it blooms from May into June. Flowers are a wine maroon color.

Nodding will grow 12 to 18 inches. The flower is white and hangs down under the three leaves. It will bloom May to June.

Purple grows up to 15 inches. The flower of this one is maroon and grows in the center of the three leaves. The plant’s odor can be really offensive, but unless you get really close to it you can’t smell it. It is also known by the name Stinking Benjamin.

These three are so numerous at Thornwood that even on the tails it is hard not to step on any.

So there are a few of the many wildflowers, which are also native, that we have growing at Thornwood. Hopefully you’ll be able to get out there while they are blooming. Each time you go you will probably find more and more blooming.