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Water Smartweed

Water Smartweed

Water Smartweed

Water Smartweed is many things - a highly perfumed wildflower, a garden standout and part of any native wetland. The plant's mix of leaves, clover-like flowers and structure lends itself to a wide variety of applications when put in a vase.Plants that occur in wetland habitats typically specialize in either growing on waterlogged but not flooded muddy soils, or in the water itself (either submerged or floating on the surface). Relatively few plants are able to grow under both conditions. One such species is the Water smartweed (Polygonum amphibium), which true to its Latin epithet, is an amphibious plant. It has been quite successful, naturally colonizing much of North America, Europe, and northern Asia and has been introduced to Mexico, South America, and southern Africa.

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Thick spikes of bright pink flowers borne on a thick, naked stalk above the alternate, oval, leathery green leaves characterizes water smartweed. When growing on land, the stems are erect to decumbent and densely pubescent (as are the leaves) and the leaf blades have sharp-pointed tips. Plants growing underwater have glabrous (hairless) stems, leaves, and blunt-tipped leaf blades. In the past, these two different growth forms were described as separate species, though research has shown that the extreme variability between forms is dampened by a nearly continuous set of morphologically intermediate plants.Water smartweeds have a long history of human use. Several Plains Indian tribes used the species as a food source, while other groups derived medicines from the roots, stems, and leaves. The term smartweed is thought to be a more sanitized version of the original word “arsmart” for the use of the plant in medieval times to relieve itching and swelling of the human posterior. More recently, scientists in England have found that Water smartweeds growing in old gold mine tailings can accumulate trace amounts of gold into their tissues at levels significantly higher than expected from background levels. Some have suggested the plant could be used as a bioassay of useful minerals or to clean up badly polluted sites.

Stems have thickened joints and are single or branched near the top. Stems are erect when terrestrial and prostrate and floating with erect tips when aquatic. Leaf stalks with prominent paper-like sheaths (stipules), 1–2 cm long, encircle the stem at leaf bases. Alternate, leathery leaves, 5–15 cm long, with somewhat heart-shaped bases and a white midrib. Leaves have smooth to wavy margins and often turn rust-colored with age. Basal leaves are lacking. In plants growing on land, the stems and leaves are densely haired, and have sharp-pointed tips on the leaf blades. Plants growing in water have smooth stems and leaves and floating, egg-shaped leaf blades.Waterfowl and raccoons (Procyon lotor) eat water smartweed seeds. Some Native American tribes ate the young shoots in the springtime and used a tea of the roots to treat mouth sores and stomachaches. The name smartweed may be derived from the word “arsmart” due to its use in medieval times for relieving itching and swelling of the backside. (Source: mpgnorth.com)

 

 

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