Thursday, April 21, 2011

Marsh Marigolds - Spring is here to stay!

The skunk cabbage is the first flower to emerge in the wetlands. Its spadix pops up through the snow sometimes as early as January. But when the yellow blooms of the marsh marigold are first noted dotting our wetlands, spring has finally taken a hold on the land. In the Sarah Bishop Open Space, it was Monday! Their blooms look more like a buttercup than a marigold as in fact it is in the buttercup family – Ranunculaceae. The nectar and pollen are welcomed nourishment for early bees and insects. A native plant it was used for various medicinal purposes. But beware; all parts of the plant are poisonous! Just handling it can cause skin rashes and dermatitis, so preparation required expertise. Because it sickened their livestock, especially cows, colonial farmers were very wary of it. But when its blooms appeared, it meant that the fields could finally be plowed. As with most wildflowers, it has many names – kingcups, water blobs, and sometimes cowslip. Scientifically it is called Caltha (cup) patustris (marsh). Growing along the margins of the wetlands, this beautiful plant takes three years to bloom. So as you are walking along the marsh, swamp or bog, enjoy these little heralds of spring. But remember don’t touch! Beauty sometimes has a bite. (Photo - US Fish & Wildlife, Waubay National Wildlife Refuge)

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