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Ageratina aromatica

Ageratina aromatica (Lesser Snakeroot)

Scientific name: Ageratina aromatica, syn. Eupatorium aromaticum

Common names: Small-leaved White Snakeroot, Wild-hoarhound, Lesser Snakeroot, Aromatic Eupatorium

Family: Asteraceae

Nativity: Eastern North America

Location: Sandhills Gamelands, Hoffman, NC

Date: October 23, 2016

Notes: Along with thousands of others in the 1800s, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of “milk sickness” when she drank the milk from a cow that had eaten a close relative of this plant, white snakeroot (A. altissima). A. aromatica may or may not be less toxic than its famous relative, but it looks similar enough to avoid consuming it lest you make a mistake in identification.

The chemical involved is tremetol; you can be poisoned by having a large amount of it at once, or small amounts over a long period. Cows that have eaten the plants will begin to tremble, especially after any exertion, then die within a few days.

Having warned you, CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants by Umberto Quattrocchi (pg.  122) lists several historic uses for A. aromatica, among them crushing the leaves to apply to bruises and sprains.

Ilex vomitoria

yaupon holly

Scientific name: Ilex vomitoria

Common names: Yaupon, yaupon holly

Family: Aquifoliaceae

Nativity: Southeastern United States, and — fascinating these disjunct situations — a small area of Mexico, south of the Yucatan.

Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina

Date: March 8, 2016 (top photo), October 2015 (bottom two)

Notes: Yaupon is a popular landscape plant in the Southeast. It adapts to all sorts of growing conditions, takes well to pruning, and female plants have attractive red berries for most of the year. There are cultivars that suit many different design scenarios.

An interesting and not particularly well known tidbit about this plant is that it has caffeine. The vomitoria part of its scientific name might make you think twice about consuming it, but historically yaupon has been used as a daily beverage the same way we use black tea or coffee today. It seems to be the dosage that makes the difference — you’ll throw up if you make the tea too strong, or drink too much of it. Or maybe as some say, the association with vomiting has nothing to do with this plant at all, but with others that were blended with it when it was used ceremonially.

Because it is easy to grow and native to the United States, there has been some interest in bringing back the habit of its consumption. One company in Texas was recently featured on NPR. Don’t be surprised to see yaupon tea in a restaurant near you soon!

You can listen to the program here: Here’s the Buzz on America’s Forgotten Native ‘Tea’ Plant

Weeping cultivars have the most caffeine of all the I. vomitoria cultivars, according to Green Deane. His posts about various Ilex brews have a lot more detail if you’re interested in making the tea yourself.

weeping yaupon

Yaupon holly berries become more translucent as they freeze and thaw a few times over the winter. Some types of wildlife prefer to have them prepared by Nature this way. (The berries are toxic to humans.) Yaupon holly is a host plant for the brown and black butterfly, Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici). This butterfly’s big eyes, and antennae that look like dotted lines of black and white, make it a very cute little visitor.

yaupon holly berries

Bartramia pomiformis

pocket of bartramia moss
Common names: Apple-moss

Family: Bartramiaceae

Nativity: Undetermined, but it grows throughout the northern hemisphere

Location: Waxhaw, North Carolina

Date: March 15, 2016

Notes: As my friend Lisa and I were stalking the trout lilies along the Mineral Springs Greenway, we came across apple-moss. It was growing all mixed in with the trout lilies in several spots along the creek. Apple-moss gets it’s common name from the shape of the spore capsules, which look like little green apples. The genus name honors John Bartram (1699–1777), who is sometimes called the father of American botany, and whose son William traveled and famously wrote about the flora and fauna of the Carolinas.

bartramia pomiformis calyptra

bartramia moss and troutlily leaves

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