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Results tagged “polygalaceae”

Jun 13, 2012: Polygala senega

Polygala senega

Seneca snakeroot (or Senega snakeroot) is distributed across much of Canada and the central and eastern parts of the USA. It is a low-growing perennial species, ranging from 10-50cm in height at maturity. Some of its preferred habitats include prairie grasslands and dry, open woods. I observed plants in both the Mars Hill Wildlife Management Area (growing in oak savannah) and the Tolstoi Tall Grass Prairie Preserve (remnant prairie grassland) in Manitoba last week, though today's photograph was taken a couple years ago in the Quyon Alvar of Québec.

In Manitoba, it is a common species, so much so that three-quarters of the world's wild-harvested supply is from Manitoba's Interlake region. However, in Québec, it makes an appearance in the "List of Plant Species Likely to be Designated as Threatened or Vulnerable" (PDF), with 38 known occurrences in the province as of December 2004. In British Columbia, Polygala senega is a red-listed (endangered) species. From what little I can find online, perhaps it is extirpated in the province, as the most recent collection of a specimen was in 1958 from its single known locality near Pouce Coupé. The BC Conservation Data Centre ranks it as "historical".

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada's Canadian Medicinal Crops site explains why Polygala senega is harvested (in an excellent fact sheet on the species): "Seneca snakeroot was utilized by the Seneca Indians in treatment of rattlesnake bite. Canadian botanist Frère Marie-Victorin suggested that the resemblance of the knotty root crown to a rattlesnake's tail may have contributed to its use by the Seneca as an antidote...Seneca snakeroot was sent to Europe in the early 1700s and held a regular place in European drug stores during the 1800s for use in treatment of pneumonia...The root is ground into powder and used in various patent medicines, particularly in cough medicines, as a stimulant expectorant. It is present in some prescription drugs used in the treatment of bronchitis and asthma..."

Manitoba Agriculture also has a fact sheet about Seneca snakeroot. Perennial Gardening on the Prairies has some excellent images of the species: Polygala senega.

Lastly, a note of interest to pass along, particularly to local readers: we've launched a new provincially-accredited Horticulture Training Program here at UBC Botanical Garden. For those who can make it in person, there are two upcoming information sessions: June 26 at 7pm and July 8 at 3pm (registration for autumn 2012 closes July 15). See the link for additional details.

Mar 4, 2011: Polygala chamaebuxus

Polygala chamaebuxus

Today's entry was written by Claire:

Jacki Dougan (aka jacki-dee@Flickr) of Portland, Oregon provided us with this image of Polygala chamaebuxus. It was photographed after the snowfall that besieged the Pacific Northwest last week (via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). Thank you and stay warm Jacki!

Polygala chamaebuxus belongs to a genus containing several hundred species, but the total number remains unclear until further study defines the limit of the genus (which of these closely-related species belong to Polygala and which are sufficiently different to be in a separate genus?), according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group: Polygalaceae. The family, however, contains approximately 940 recognized species. Some of you may know the milkworts, named as a group due to some European medieval time (incorrect) beliefs that the species Polygala amara stimulated breastmilk production. First Nations of North America and subsequent European colonizers used a different species, Polygala senega or snakeroot, as a remedy for snake bites, insect bites, and respiratory illnesses.

Polygala chamaebuxus, commonly called shrubby milkwort, is not known for having (or not) either of these properties, but it is a lovely evergreen shrub. Native to the mountains of central Europe, in milder climates it blooms in the late winter to early spring (and can sometimes bloom on and off all winter long). Paghat writes of Polygala chamaebuxus var. grandiflora 'Kamniski', and makes mention of fragrant flowers with a pleasant, waxy smell.

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