PRAIRIE SMOKE  (Geum triflorum) is a good example of a plant with a strange name. Unless you know its history, you might wonder what you are getting. Can you imagine what a European might think if given this plant with just its common name on the tag? It is also called OLD MAN’S WHISKERS. They are perennial wild flowers you can purchase at the nurseries with a dainty pink blossom that is followed by a grayish, plumed fruit head. Goldfinches will eat as many seeds as they can find so it may not spread fast for you.  Most of the seeds do not germinate but they do spread from the roots. Only 8 to 12 inches high in full sun with good drainage (no wet feet in winter especially). They got their names from the pioneers who saw great patches of them with their seed heads from a distance. Hybridizers have developed ones with red or yellow blooms, thus making a good edging. Their seed heads still resemble "smoke" in a large patch and some distance back.

          Blood ROOT (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another wild, woodland flower who comes up early in the spring with its leaves nicely folded and then expands to a very interesting, deeply lobed leaf that contains the white, waxy bloom on its own 3-6 inch stems. I have given away a number of “chunks” of my colony as it spreads by roots rather well after its first two years.  It does need a protected area from wind as the blooms burn easily. Leaves and all disappear in early summer if it is hot and they run out of water.  This year they lasted until our spell of 100 degrees. The name comes from the fact that it will bleed red if you cut the stem or leaf.  Some people are allergic to this sap.  You can plant them even in deep shade if soil is wet and acidic.

          QUEEN ANN’S LACE (Daucus carota) is also called wild carrot as it has a root much like a carrot in shape and smell but is white, not orange.  The original carrot had to be boiled for a long time to be edible so our carrots have come a long way thanks to the efforts of plant lovers.  Fancy the new one this year which is bright orange with purple rings. When you buy seeds for QUEEN ANN’S LACE it generally is listed as a biennial, forming a short rosette the first year and blooming the second. But I start seeds early, sometimes inside under lights, and it blooms for me the first year.  The stems are slender and tend to flop in the rain or wind so I usually plant seeds or set out the plants inside a cage. They need full sun. It does well in bouquets especially with red flowers. It gets its name from Queen Anne who was a skilled lace maker. Be careful in the woods, as there are 2 poisonous plants that look like QUEEN ANN (fools parsley and poison hemlock). The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on the plant or on parsley. Some catalogs list Ammi visnaga as QUEEN ANN’S LACE which has a greenish tinged bloom or Ammi majus species also called white dill. Any of these will give you the round lacy blooms. The wild variety is very aggressive.

          How about MOTHER-IN-LAWS TONGUE (Sansevieria trifasciata) if you are talking to a new gardener? They might get the idea you are viscious. Or some people call it SNAKE PLANT.  It is not hardy here in Lincoln but is a good beginner’s plant, as it survives neglect but not over watering.  Natives of Africa and India, the most common one makes a good houseplant and grows to 4 feet and the long, pointed, thick leaves do not come from a stem but directly from the soil.  There also is a “Birds Nest” which grows only 12 inches tall. This last year a twisted leaf one has appeared.  The first plant I met was in bloom in a large (20-inch) pot growing almost in the dark. I was called in to administer first aid as it had cracked its pot from top to bottom.  As they grow they send out rhizomes that will bend to fit in the pot and start a new plant. Our patient had over 30 to 36-inch tall babies trying to find room.  After we broke them apart and replanted several in a new big pot there was a number I could use to start my own colony. When they are happy, and several years old, they have a fragrant bloom. You can take a single leaf, cut it into sections and each part will grow unless you plant it upside down but your new plants will not have the stripes across or the golden edge.  It is easier to dump the pot and tear off as many “kids” as you want.  Do not injure the leaf tips or that one stops growing. They do not like wet feet, especially in the winter.  I have not found anywhere how it got its common name.

          BOUNCING BET (Saponaria officinalis) is a plant most of our mothers and grandmothers had.  They had little time to care for flowers and Bet can take care of itself. It is a fast spreading perennial by roots, and grows about 2 feet tall with white, pink, or red flowers.  I have the double pink form, which will bloom twice during the summer if deadheaded. The double form does not form seeds but that is no problem, as the roots are very vigorous.  The heads are heavy and can flop if in good soil. I cage the area where the new roots have sent up plants and dig under the old ones to keep it from “bouncing” all over the yard. The plant is also called soapwort as it produces bubbles when oozing sap from its stems and leaves. In addition to foam, the sap dissolves oil, fat, and grease so has been used by ancient groups as soap and as a skin wash in rashes.

          Plants are fun to watch grow and flower. It adds to the enjoyment if you find time to explore the origin of the plant, its native habitat, and especially the origin of the name,

Copyright 2006