Sunday, July 31, 2016

drawn by sweet honey

drawn by sweet honey
scent, honey bees gather nectar
from rattlesnake master

Honey bees, drawn by a strong honey-like scent, are swarming over the prickly pom pom blossom heads of rattlesnake master. Other insects also seek the sweet nectar: black wasps, black horse flies, butterflies, moths, skippers, bugs and beetles.

The whole plant is prickly. Spiky white bracts stick out all over the spherical multi-flower heads that develop in clusters at the top of long stems, and the long sword-shaped leaves are edged with small teeth. The scientific name, Eryngium yuccifolium, pretty much sums up the primary characteristics of this native forb. Eryngium is Greek for "prickly plant" and yuccifolium means "yucca leaves." All those prickles are a good defense against mammalian herbivores, though they may nip the ends of the leaves. The caterpillar of the rare rattlesnake master borer moth will bore into the stem and feed off of the pith.

Rattlesnake master is an odd member of the carrot family that resembles a yucca, a member of the lily family, with globular flower heads that look more like a thistle, a member of the composite family. But it is a true native prairie plant, which propagates by offsets developing at the base of each plant. 

Indigenous tribes used the dried seed heads as rattles. Perhaps because the seed heads rattled like a rattlesnake, pioneers erroneously believed the root of the plant, also known as button snake-root, was an antidote for rattlesnake bite.

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