Springtime has arrived, as evidenced by the blooming of many wildflowers along the trails here at the park.The term “wildflower” is used to designate those flowering plants that grow naturally, without cultivation. These often tiny and delicate flowers play an important role in the ecosystem. Not only do they feed insects, birds and other animals, but they have long been used by humans for medicinal purposes.
Though wildflowers can be found throughout the park, a walk down the Cottonwood Trail this week will afford visitors the opportunity to see a large variety of species in one location. Dutchman’s Breeches, Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Sweet Betsy, Mayapple, Virginia Bluebells, Twin-Leaf and Birds-Foot Violet can all be seen now. There are many interesting facts that can be highlighted about each of these plants. On April 9 and 23 at 1:00 p.m., visitors can join the interpreter for a walk down the Cottonwood Trail to observe these beautiful flowers in bloom and to learn more about the history of each. Until then, here are some photographs (all but the Spring Beauty are courtesy of Jackie Labovitz, park volunteer and professional photographer) and highlights about a few of them:
Spring Beauty – the corm, which is the underground tuber, is edible and the taste is likened to that of a potato or chestnut, only sweeter. In the past, these corms were especially popular among Native American children.
Bloodroot – the orange juice of this plant was used by Native Americans as a face paint and dye for clothing, baskets and weapons. In the past, the juice has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including coughs, sore throats, influenza and skin afflictions. In the 1980’s, a pharmaceutical company used bloodroot as an ingredient in their toothpaste, after The American Dental Association stated that the liquid showed promise as a plaque reducer.
Dutchman’s Breeches – this unique looking wildflower was used as a love potion by the Menominees of Michigan and Wisconsin. It was said that if a man chewed the root and then breathed the scent on the girl of his choosing, then that girl would follow him wherever he went.
Mayapple – this plant, although poisonous, produces edible, tasty fruit that is non-toxic only when fully ripened. In the past, the plant was used by the Iroquios and Menominees as an insecticide for their crops. Today, mayapple is still used to treat intestinal worms and as an ingredient in laxative-type medicines. In addition, mayapple extract is used to treat skin cancers and promising research is showing that the plant may be effective in stopping the spread of cancer in the body, by preventing diseased cells from dividing.