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Herbaceous Plants 

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Need help identifying

a plant in the park?

Try out our dichotomous key HERE to figure it out! Not finding what you are looking for? Email us a photo and we will try to add the specimen  to our dichotomous key. 

Herbaceous Plants: Plants without woody tissue in their stem. 
Wildflowers: A non-cultivated wild flowering plant. 
Weeds: A plant that is not where it should be. Any plant can be considered a weed if it is growing somewhere that it is not meant to be growing. 
Grasses: Green plants with jointed stems, long slender leaves, and stalks of clustered flowers.
Sedges: A plant that is like grass, but has solid stems and grows in tufts in marshes.
Rushes: A grasslike marsh plant with hollow rounded stems (rushes are round).

*Classification definitions from: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Definitions:

*Any references to edible or medicinal uses of plants are meant solely for the purpose of education and not as a reference for using the plants. Please do NOT collect or eat any plants in the parks! Collecting plants could disturb the ecosystem as well as potentially cause a danger to yourself if ingested. Even safe to eat plants may have been sprayed with pesticides, and many safe plants have deadly look-a-likes.  

Parts of a Flower:

Key:
ID Characteristics
Funky Facts!
References/More Information
 

wildflowers

Yarrow has alternate, fern-like leaves that grow around 3-5 inches in length. Yarrow grows up to 3 feet tall. White (sometimes slightly pink) flowers are clustered together in compact clumps at the top of the stem. 

  • Yarrow has a long lineage of medicinal uses and folklore. Remnants of yarrow were found in a burial site of a Neanderthal grave along with other medicinal herbs. 

  • The name Achillea comes from the Greek hero Achilles who was said to carry yarrow with him into battle to heal the wounds of his soldiers. The story goes on to say that Achilles received yarrow “that grew from the rust on his spear” from a centaur named Chiron who showed him how to use the plant.   

  • Yarrow represents both healing and war in the early Victorian language of flowers. 

  • Yarrow is still used medicinally today for stopping nose bleeds (hence its common name the nosebleed plant), aides stomach cramping and digestion, breaking fevers, externally used for sores, including a number of additional uses. 

  • Doctors used to use mashed yarrow root and whiskey as an anesthetic for surgeries. 

  • The dried stalks of yarrow are also used in I Ching divination. 


Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Plant Database, Achillea millefolium.


Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism: Jacqueline Brogle, Certified Herbalist, Yarrow Throughout History.


“Growing and Using Healing Herbsby Gaea and Shandor Weiss. 


Wikipedia:Achillea millefolium.


Rosemary Gladstar's Garden Wisdoms: Yarrow.

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):

 

Burdock (Arctium minus):

 

In its first year, the stem is low and the leaves form a rosette. In its second year, it develops much longer, branched stems. Burdocks’ thick, heart-shaped leaves are dark green and have a hairy underside. The globular purple, sometimes white, flowers are easily confused with thistles, but can be distinguished by their hooked bracts.

 

  • Burdock makes an appearance in several Shakespeare plays, including “King Lear.”

  • The Cherokee have used the seeds and roots as a blood cleanser and many Asian cultures prepare Burdock into soups and teas, in addition to using it medicinally. It has been used for dandruff, acne, eczema, gout, sores, as a diuretic and laxative, and for many other ailments.

  • Burdock burrs were the inspiration for Velcro

  • In 1941, George de Mestral went on a hike and became fascinated by the Burdock burrs that kept sticking to his dogs fur. Inspired by the wonders of nature, de Mestral set out to replicate this design. However, this ended up being quite a difficult task and took almost a decade for this inspiration to turn into the Velcro we use today (Velcro is technically a trademarked name, the product is actually called hook and loop fasteners). 

Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Burdock."

Los Angeles Times: "A healing herb from Shakespeare's garden."

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: "Nevada Nuisance Weed Field Guide."

Velcro: "About Velcro Brand."

Natural Ingredient: "Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics."

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):

 

 

Dandelions have a distinctive hollow stem which secretes milky white liquid. Leaves are smooth surfaced and irregularly jagged, but the leaf shape can differ quite drastically from extremely jagged to moderately jagged. They have yellow ray flowers.  

  • Though many people view dandelion as an obnoxious weed, dandelion seeds were brought to North America intentionally from Europe by the settlers as dandelions were used as medicine, food, wine, dye, and coffee.

  • Dandelions also have ecological uses, being a nectar source for bees, forage for rabbits, and seeds for small birds.

  • Dandelion has a long list of purported medicinal uses, one being the ability to aid in digestion due to Dandelion’s bitter properties.

Invasion Biology Species Summary Project, Columbia University: “Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)” by Hourdajian, Dara.

 

Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine:  “Dandelion.

 

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus):

 

 

Biennial plant. First year of growth in a rosette stage of leaves close to ground. Second year flowers in a tall stalk of yellow flowers. Leaves are soft with small hairs.

  • One common name of Mullein is pioneer toilet paper since Mullein has soft leaves which are perfect for when you have to go on the go…

  • Mullein is a great survival plant since its leaves have soft hairs that are great tinder as they catch fire easily, and the stalks can be used as a hand drill for starting the fire.

  • One of the first references to Mullein was in Homer’s Odyssey where Ulysses was given Mullein by the gods to protect him from Circe.

  • During funeral processions in ancient Rome, Mullein stalks were used as candlesticks after dipping the stalks into tallow.

  • Mullein leaves and flowers have been used medicinally in teas for the treatment of respiratory ailments such as asthma and chest infections.

Identify That Plant: Common Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)” by Angelyn.

"Mother Nature’s Herbal" 2nd ed. by Judith Griffin.

 

Art & Nature Center: “It's Torch! It's a Medicine! It's Mullein!” by Waldron , Laura.

 

grasses/sedges/rushes

Cattails (Typha Spp.):

You will find cattails where water is; near ponds, streams, and marshes. Cattail seed heads are long, brown and narrow like cigars. Leaves are long, flat, grey/green in color and are basal (leaves form in pairs oppositely attached from each other). 

  • Cattails have a myriad of uses. Their long narrow leaves have been used in weaving for shelter, baskets, and mats.

  • The young cattail shoots can be eaten raw or boiled.

  • The pollen can be collected and used in pancake batter, bread, muffins, etc. 

  • The dried brown flower heads when removed can be used as a down-like fluff for pillows, padding for shoes, or comforters. 

  • Cattails have also been used effectively in phytoremediation projects (using plants to remove harmful chemicals, waste, or heavy metals from the soil or water) such as sewage waste systems! 

Check out the awesome work of John Todd and his “eco-living machines” where he uses a variety of plants (including cattails) to clean sewage waste! 


“Willow Bark & Rosehips: An Introduction to Common Edible and Useful Wild Plants of North America” by Fritz Springmeyer. 


Phytoremediation of Heavy Metals from Urban Waste Leachate by Southern Cattail from the International Journal of Scientific Research in Environmental Sciences.  

Species Name:

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local resources

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