I think we can officially say the wildflowers are blooming! The woodlands have had many flowers bloom already this spring, but now we are starting to see the prairie wake up from its dormancy. Pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up with what is blooming in the prairie week-to-week, but for now I’m doing alright.
I’d like to highlight one species blooming at the moment called Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis). It has been blooming for a few weeks now and this year is the first time I’ve seen it. This plant is short with a basal rosette of fern-like leaves and a flower stalk that produces yellow flowers from the bottom up. It associates with grasses and other prairie plants, because it is parasitic. This means that it acquires some, if not all of it’s nutrients by taping into the root systems of other plants. Last summer, I was able to find it’s cousin, Swamp Lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), which is it’s wet prairie counterpart with white or cream flowers.
The common name of an individual prairie plant is usually interesting not only because of how the plant came to be named, but how we often use multiple names for the same plant. Sometimes when I’m talking about one plant I may call it by three different common names in a conversation. This species can be more specifically called Canadian Lousewort, but I have recently come to realize that most people will call it Wood Betony. I learned it as Lousewort, and I tend to use the name I first learned for all plants, even after I hear of another common name that is more popular (first-time bias?). Why can’t we all just call each plant by the same name? I suppose it’s because we are too stubborn to stop calling them by the first common name we learned. Without the formal Latin names for these plants, we would all be lost.
When you see “wort” as part of a plant name it can usually be translated as “ward off”. It turns out that Lousewort was once thought to keep lice (louse) away from livestock. Apparently, that assumption was found to be false. Maybe if it was a lice repellent we would see more of it in Iowa pastures…