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FutureStarrA Snakeroot Flower
Plants are upright or sometimes ascending, growing to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) tall, producing single or multi-stemmed clumps in mid to late summer and fall. The flowers are a clean white color and after blooming, small seeds with fluffy white tails are released to blow in the wind. They are found in woods and brush thickets where they bloom mid to late summer or fall. The species is adaptive to different growing conditions; it is found in woods and brush thickets and also in shady areas with open bare ground, and can be weedy in shady landscapes and hedgerows. There are two different varieties: Ageratina altissima var. altissima and Ageratina altissima var. roanensis (Appalachian white snakeroot); they differ in the length of the flower phyllaries and shape of the apices. When a young lad and his father washed up on the shores of America in 1699, they stayed at an Indian village and traded some of their goods. When they ran to retrieve the goods they lost, they found the village was deserted. The villagers had left the older version of this medicine, the snakeroot flower, behind and it was later used to ward off evil.
White snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol; when the plants are consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed, the poison is passed on to humans. If consumed in large enough quantities, it can cause tremetol poisoning in humans. The poisoning is also called milk sickness, as humans often ingested the toxin by drinking the milk of cows that had eaten snakeroot. Fall-blooming white snakeroot is that nondescript weed that has been inconspicuously growing in shady spots all spring and summer. You barely notice the one- to four-foot-tall plant with toothy, dark green leaves until suddenly—poof! It’s everywhere you turn, all abloom with fluffy white flowers. One of the last wild natives to flower, Ageratina altissima is a godsend to hungry insects like bees, moths, and flies furiously foraging before the weather turns cold and food becomes scarce.
White snakeroot is most easily identifiable in the fall, when its fluffy white flower heads appear, but it has another distinctive characteristic that appears when it leafs out in spring. Look for elaborate, curving trails on some leaves. These are the work of a species of fly (Liriomyza eupatoriella) that makes white snakeroot its host. The fly lays its eggs on the leaf, and after they hatch, the larvae feed on the leaf tissue, tunneling their way around and creating the beautiful, albeit destructive patterns. Vegetable gardeners may recognize these patterns as the telltale sign of leaf miners that attack their chard, beet, spinach, and tomato plants in much the same way. The intricate tunnels don't do these plants any good, though white snakeroot seems better able to tolerate them than some other species. Another wondrous peek into the complexities of nature: The same plant that could kill a cow is baby food for a tiny fly! The upper stems terminate in compound corymbs or flat-headed panicles of flowerheads that span 2-6" across. The branches of this inflorescence are light green and glabrous (or nearly so). Each flowerhead is about ï¿½" across and contains 10-30 disk florets that have brilliant white corollas and styles. There are no ray florets. Each disk floret is about 3-5 mm. across when it is fully open, consisting of a small tubular corolla with 5 lobes that are spreading and pointed and a divided style that is strongly exerted from the corolla. At the base of each flowerhead, there is a single series of linear floral bracts that are light green and non-overlapping. The blooming period occurs from late summer through the fall, lasting about 2 months for a colony of plants. This is one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the fall. The flowers are often fragrant. (Source: www.illinoiswildflowers.info)