Eloise Butler

The Writings of Eloise Butler

Geum, Early Meadow Rue, Lousewort, Phlox, and Hoary Puccoon Are Described as Wild Beauties in Miss Butler’s Weekly Article.

Published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune May 28, 1911

[Note: To facilitate identification of plants, we have taken the liberty of adding the information that is within brackets and also all the botanical names have been put into italics. The language of Eloise's day is left as written. Additional notes at the bottom of the page.]

Prairie Smoke Buds
Flower of Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum.

Nearly contemporaneous with the pasque flower, and likewise on the prairie, grows the Avens, or three-flowered Geum [Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum]. It bears a tuft of fern-like, interruptedly pinnate leaves, each leaf consisting of divided leaflets arranged along the stalk like the parts of a feather, interspersed with still smaller leaflets. The plant has a single flower stalk with three branches at the top, each terminated by a rosy, pensile bell, looking like a flower bud, decorated with slender, recurved bracts. One would wait in vain, however, for these debutantes to appear otherwise. “Buds” they will seem to be throughout their season. Opening the five closed petals you will find attached to them five creamy petals and many stamens. In the center of the flower are innumerable pistils, which finally form a lovely claret-colored ball of gossamer plumes, each serving to waft through the air the little seed-like fruit.

Prairie Smoke
Seed head of Prairie Smoke

The Geum belongs to the Rose family, the family containing most esteemed cultivated fruits of the temperate regions, as the strawberry, peach, cherry, pear - a long list. At the head of this list should be placed the apple, which - tame, wild and crab - has within the past week gladdened the eye with its pearly, rose-tinted clouds of bloom.

Along with the Geum will be seen in abundance another plant, the Lousewort [Canadian Lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis]; or, if you prefer a more euphonious name, the Wood Betony. The former name was given by farmers, who fancied that cattle feeding upon the plant were infested with one of the Egyptian plagues. The pinnately divided leaves of betony are arranged in a rosette. The pale yellow flowers are bilabiate, with the laterally compressed upper lip arched over the stamens and the pistil and are densely crowded in the leafy spike. This plant belongs to the Figwort family, in which the flowers are usually two-lipped - like the snap dragons - and are ingeniously adapted to insect pollination.

Hoary Puccoon
Hoary Puccoon, Lithospermum canescens. Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

Another prairie flower of brighter yellow is the Hoary Puccoon [Lithospermum canescens], popularly called Indian Pink, perhaps because the roots afford a beautiful red dye much used by the Indians. Slender leaves thickly clothe the stem, which bears at the top a good-sized cluster of the brilliant flowers, tubular at the base and spreading abruptly into a flat border. Such a flower is called salver shaped. The tube serves to enclose the stamens and hold the nectar. The puccoon shows its relationship to the heliotrope in the shape of the flower and in the way in which the flower cluster uncoils as the buds expand.

It is not uncommon in Maying parties to hear the explanation, “Oh, what a pretty fern!” as the attention is attracted to the delicate many-branched leaf of the Early Meadow Rue [Thalictrum dioicum], one of the crowfoot family (Ref #1). The leaf stalk of the meadow rue is branched four times into three divisions, so that it bears in all eighty-one leaflets. The leaf is as pleasing as that of a fern and adds an airy fern-like grace to a bouquet. Ferns, by the way, have three characters by which they may be distinguished from other plants - a coiled leaf-bud which unrolls at the base when the leaf expands, displaying a forked venation; a second peculiarity of the fern, and, later some brown or yellowish dots usually on the under side in which are developed spores. Ferns have neither flowers nor seeds, while one individual of the Early Meadow Rue has a spray of tiny pollen-bearing flowers, and another the seed-producing flowers. These separated flowers are pollinated by the wind.

Canadian Lousewort
Canadian Lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis. Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.
Early Meadow Rue.
Early Meadow Rue, Thalictrum dioicum.

Red Columbine
Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

A much admired genus of the crowfoot family is the Columbine, which has one representative in Minnesota [Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis]. All the columbines make a brave showing, from the cultivated ones of different hues to the peerless large white species, to the state flower of Colorado, [Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea]. But our species holds its own among them all, burgeoning in red and yellow in rich relief against the background of gray rock, as it nods from boulder crevices. The columbine has both calyx and corolla and both are colored. The long spurred petals gorged with nectar for the entertainment of insect guests have given rise to the name honeysuckle which, to avoid confusion, would better be kept for the true honeysuckle in no wise related to the columbine. The foliage of the columbine is fern-like as is the meadow rue and others of the same family.

Golden Ragwort
Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea

In the meadows may also be seen an early composite, the Golden Ragwort [Packera aurea]. In the composite family what seems to be a flower, at a careless glance, is in reality a flower cluster, composed of small closely crowded flowers, with buds or tubular flowers in the center that might be mistaken for stamens and pistils, and surrounded on the outside by whorls of green leaves called bracts that exactly imitate a calyx. The foliage of the ragwort is more or less cut or parted, hence the name.

[Near] the Hill seminary [in St. Paul] lies a fairyland, carpeted in May with flower mosaics, pink, white, yellow and blue. The Spring Beauty forms the pink vistas of this woodland; the False Rue Anemone, the white, Marsh Marigold, ragworts and buttercups, the yellow; violets and phlox, the blue. In this flower elysium cares fly away, and all alike are happy children reveling with the flowers. But one is shocked to see traces of the slimy serpent in this paradise. It has been desecrated by dumps of old tins and other rubbish, and it is rumored that it is the intention to cut a road through the place. By next summer, no doubt, it will exist only in memory. The confines of the wilderness are becoming more and more restricted under the resist-less march of settlement.

The low phlox (P. divaricata) of this region runs the gamut of colors from white, blue to lilac. It is readily transplanted and blossoms freely, and will flourish in sun or shade. There is no better plant, wild or cultivated, for edgings or borders, as it tones harmoniously with other flowers. The world is indebted to America for the splendid cultivated phloxes which have developed, one and all, from various native species.

Notes: 1. Crowfoot Family, (Ranunculaceae) -in current times this family is now called the Buttercup Family

More information and photos on some of these plants can be found under these links:
Prairie Smoke

Early Meadow Rue

Red Columbine

Golden Ragwort

Low (Wild Blue) Phlox.