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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

The birds and the bees, the flowers and trees

August 28, 2009
By Jim Junttila

In recent columns, we've discussed lupin, sweetpeas, and what a wealth of wildflowers we enjoy in the Keweenaw; Wealthy enough for me to milk for another column using only two of my favorites; Queen Anne lace and hollyhocks.

Queen Anne Lace grows wild and with impunity throughout the U.P. and Michigan. Its clusters of small white flowers look like little lace umbrellas, with a tiny red flower in the center, said to represent a drop of blood where Queen Anne pricked her finger when she was making lace. Colored by anthocyanin, it attracts insects and the flower has her way with them. I know lace works that way for me every time.

Queen Anne lace, Daucus carota, wild carrot, according to Wikipedia, is also known as bird's nest and bishop's lace. It is an aromatic flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, with hollow stems commonly known as umbellifers, including anise, cumin, coriander, cilantro, caraway, celery, dill, fennel and parsley. Like the cultivated carrot, the wild carrot root is edible while young, but quickly becomes too woody to eat. As with all wild food gathering and herbal remedies, you can't be too careful; the wild carrot closely resembles the toxic water hemlock, cowbane and poison parsnip from the same family. The USDA lists it as a noxious weed, considered a serious pest in pastures.

You don't have to look very far to find it around here. Queen Anne lace grows in fields and along roadsides throughout the U.P, if not in your yard. When freshly cut, the flower will change color, depending on the color of the water it is in, making it a popular elementary school science experiment, just in time for a cool back-to-school project. Don't forget, you heard it here first.

One person's poison is another's ambrosia. Queen Anne lace has estrogenic qualities that have been used as folk medicine for generations. A teaspoon of crushed seeds has long been used as a form of birth control. First described by Hippocrates more than 2,000 years ago, it disrupts the implantation process and has quite a reputation as an herbal contraceptive. Chinese studies indicate the seeds block progesterone synthesis.

Another of my all-time favorite flowers is the hollyhock, especially if it's growing out of a patch of Queen Anne lace. But they are gorgeous enough to stand tall on their own and require no further art direction.

"They're the poor man's gladiolus," said an authority on the topic, namesake and WW&W floral correspondent, Holly Hock. "There are about 60 species of flowering plants in the genus Alcea in the mallow family, Malvaceae. The tall, slender plant has large pink, yellow, red and purple flowers on an erect central stem topping out at eight feet."

For the florally challenged, the Common hollyhock, Alcea rosea, and the Bristly hollyhock, Alcea setosa, are those tall ornamental flowers you see all over the place. Well-established, the hearty perennial will flower for many years.

I adore hollyhocks and here's why: They are slender, long-stemmed beauties like Paris Hiltunen, Sarah Palinen and Holly Hock herself, but unlike those girls, they are low-maintenance. As pure bonus, they are herbalistically used as an emollient and a laxative to control inflammation.

Hollyhocks are drought-resistant and do well in hot, bright sun that might cause fussy, high-maintenance flowers to wilt. They produce large, flat, coin-shaped seeds (1/2-inch wide) that readily reproduce and grow like crazy wherever they drop, having big families and leaving plenty of descendants. There must be something in the water. I know stands of 100-year old hollyhocks in Raymbaultown on streets that had so many kids they called them "Incubator Alley." There are bumper crops all around the Keweenaw that grow along walls and woodpiles, outa gravel, poor rock and cracks in concrete.

But they're spring chickens compared to remains of hollyhocks found in Shanidar Cave, a Neanderthal burial site in the Zagros Mountains, Kurdistan, Iraq. The famous flower is incorporated into the official seal of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan and is an important symbol in modern Japanese culture. It is the name and logo for a professional soccer club in Japan, the Mito Hollyhocks.

"As much as I love hollyhocks, nobody loves them more than the Painted Lady or Cosmopolitan butterfly that feeds on them," said Holly Hock.

Totally extraneous, non sequitur fishing tip: 100 percent of fish are caught when your line is in the water.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@chartermi.net.

 
 

 

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