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Plant Spotlight: Erythronium Pagoda

April 17th, 2012

Somewhere in my reading I came across the Erythronium or the dogtooth violet. I can’t remember for sure where, maybe in a wildflower book. If I had to guess it would be from one of the books written by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, most likely I read about it in A Year at North Hill : Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden. It doesn’t really matter where I found out about it, I’m just glad I did.

I ordered bulbs for erythronium ‘Pagoda’ last fall and they arrived nestled in one of the boxes of my 2500 bulb order. I double checked my invoice with the included items, everything had arrived and I didn’t think about these boxes in the garage for a few days. When unpacking and organzing the bulbs a week later, I noticed the pack of Erythronium said “PLANT NOW!” (yes in all caps with an exclamation point- oooops). I grabbed by trowel and planted most of them in the east facing side flowerbed and a few in the north facing bed by the back door.

Erythroniums are native to the Northern Hemisphere and prefer forest and meadows with slightly acidic soil. They can take part to full shade which is one of the reasons I purchased them. Being surrounded on three sides by very large trees, I have an abundance of shade here at Chiot’s Run. I’m often struggling to find something besides hostas that will thrive in the shady corners of the garden. Since there are forest natives I knew they’d love the conditions in those beds, they are essentially just like the forrest floor.

This little plant isn’t of the viola family even though it’s nickname suggest it, it’s of the lily family (Liliaceae). It’s nickname “Dog Tooth Violet” comes from the corms which are white and shaped like a dog’s tooth. It also has a host of other nicknames as well.  Sadly, I didn’t take any photos of the corms when I planted them so I can’t show you what they look like. You’ll have to take my word that they did in fact look like giant canine teeth.

Erythronium is usually grown as an ornamental garden plant, but it’s also edible. The leaves and flowers may be consumed raw or boiled. The corm can also be ground and used as a starch.  From my research, it was often used for making thin noodles.  In Japan the ground corms are used to thicken sauces and make tempura. It’s been used medicinally as well, the leaves can be dried and used in teas, or they can be crushed and used as a poultice. It is high in alph-methylene-butyrolactone which prevents cell mutation and may help fight cancer.  Native American Indian women were said to use the raw leaves as a contraceptive, Roman soldiers used it for foot related issues and it was used throughout the ages as a diuretic, fever reducer, to treat gout, to aid in decongestion, and to help reduce ulcers and shrink tumors.

I won’t be eating mine any time soon, I want them to multiply and grow into lovely little patches. You can believe I’ll be trying to find a few other varieties, which are different sizes and colors, to add to the garden though and when I get a good patch going I’ll try eating them in a variety of ways.

Have you found any new and interesting plants recently?

Native Witch Hazel

November 30th, 2009

The native witch hazel has been blooming for a while. It blooms much earlier and is less showy than it’s cultivated cousins. These photos were taken about a month ago.
Witch hazel is an understory tree, so it thrives in the woods or along the edges of the woods. It prefers the cool shady areas and with too much sun it will produce fewer blooms. These trees are located in the woods to side of our gardens. What a great plant it is since it blooms at this weird time. When the rest of the natural world is preparing for winter it bursts forth in radiant blooms, which will last into December.
Hamamelis virginiana was one of the first New World plants to be adopted for ornamental use by European horticulturists. As early as the mid-17th century, the plant was growing in private botanical collections in London. And it’s been a perennial favorite ever since. Witch-hazel has a rich history of use outside the garden setting. Traditionally, branches of H. virginiana were used as “divining rods” to locate underground sources of water. Also, extracts from the leaves, twigs, and bark were used to reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, and check secretions of the mucous membranes.
Since witch hazel usually blooms after most of the pollinators are gone, it doesn’t often produce seed. I think with the warm weather we’ve had this year, I may be able to find some seeds next year to plant along the edges of our woods.

What native shrubs or trees do you love?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.