Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here Comes the Coltsfoot!


Ta da! The Coltsfoot is up! It's as if the sun had called for his little sister to rise and shine. And up she popped, so sunny and bright, the very first flower of the spring. (Not counting Skunk Cabbage, which actually melts the snow with its self-generated heat in order to bloom during winter.)

We are so weary of winter and hungry for flowers, we forgive pretty Coltsfoot for not being native, and we always rejoice when we find her, poking up from among the dead dry leaves of winter. The floral year has begun. Time for me to start a new wildflower journal. Looking back at last year's journal, I note that Coltsfoot is blooming this year a full week ahead of last year.

Coltsfoot probably came to these shores with the early Europeans, who found all kinds of medicinal uses for this plant. Its Latin name, Tussilago farfara, suggests what one of those uses was (think of Robitussin). You can make a cough syrup by steeping the plant in water, adding sugar, and boiling it down to a syrup consistency. You probably shouldn't do that, though. Recent research has found certain alkaloids in this plant can cause cancer. So just let it be. It will bloom for some weeks before the large hoof-shaped leaves that give it its common name grow up to overshadow the flowers.

4 comments:

Ellen Rathbone said...

Ahhhh - there it is, indeed! I keep looking, but I know our coltsfoots (coltsfeet?) will be several days, if not weeks, behind yours. Soon...soon...

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

Hooray! It is very cheerful, isn't it? I will go on a quest looking for coltsfoot tomorrow, I think.

Does skunk cabbage really melt the snow that way? That's seriously impressive.

Woodswalker said...

Hello friends and fellow Coltsfoot lovers, thanks for stopping by. And yes, WoodswomanX, Skunk Cabbage does generate enough heat to melt the snow around it. I visited a patch 2 weeks ago when snow still lay thick in the woods, and around each Skunk Cabbage spathe, the snow was melted for several inches around.

Bill Tracy said...

As always, you make me smile! Have you ever read the Loren Eiseley essay "How Flowers Changed the World"? Long one of my favorite pieces of writing and amazingly instructive. Out here I'll be shooting the California Poppy (state flower) the next few days. I'll send you a picture. It's a beautiful little flower.