13 October 2013

White Snakeroot is Ageratina altissima

Native range White Snakeroot

White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima
 gets planted in our garden every year (though not by us!) and I leave one plant for the pollinators to enjoy - they swarm it every sunny hour of the day.

 Its other names include Tall Boneset, Thoroughwort and White Sanicle. All Snakeroots are Ageratinas and altissima means very tall or tallest.

Izel plants says their sometimes called Eupatorium rugosum name is incorrect, "The common name "snakeroot" is a reference to the early belief that the roots where a cure for snakebite. In fact all parts of the plant are highly toxic and can be fatal to animals and humans if ingested in large quantities. It was later discovered that these toxins are passed on to humans through cow's milk, causing "milk sickness". Fortunately, grazers avoid this plant and only forage on it as a last resort. Ageratina altissima was previously classified as Eupatorium rugosum."

They definitely are poisonous so don't snack on the leaves, stems or roots, OK? The toxin is called tremetol and true to its name, will cause tremors and death if eaten in large enough quantity. Pioneers cattle died from eating them.

With that said, "American Indians used a tea made from the roots to help diarrhea, painful urination, fevers, and kidney stones. The plant was also burned and the smoke used to revive unconscious patients."

The plants flop over late summer/early fall from their height of 5 to 6 feet tall.

Cold hardy from zones 4 to 8, they are worth giving up a corner of a flower bed just to watch all the insect activity on sunny afternoons. They resemble Joe Pye Weed because they are related - related to Asters in general.

 

Another interesting tidbit - it killed Abraham Lincoln's mother. "A week would pass before Nancy Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln, succumbed to an illness that had plagued Midwestern frontier families in the 19th century. Records show that more than half of the deaths in Dubois County, Indiana, during this time could be attributed to one plant, Eupatorium rugosum or white snakeroot. She died October 5, 1818, at the age of 34. Abraham (shown below with his mother) was only nine years old." http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2009/10/dont-drink-the-milk-white-snakeroot-a-guide-to-poison-gardens-a-weekly-blog-series/


 It reproduces by seed and by underground rhizome. Prairie Moon sells the seeds - 500 for $2. If you decide to start seeds, just press them into the soil rather than covering them.

Purdue Univ. says it doesn't do well on the prairie because it prefers some shade. Hmmm. Ours is in full sun and thriving. But it IS in a flower bed where it is watered regularly.

Since it survives via a large taproot, I'll just cut it down this winter and let it come back for next summer's entertainment.


 

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