Monday, August 13, 2012

Prairie Harebells: Tiny Witches' Bluebells

Harebells backlit by the rising sun on Cypress Hills. ©  SB
If the colour and shape of Harebell flowers from the Canadian prairies aren't enough to catch your attention, consider this:

The Royal Saskatchewan Museum says early pioneers thought these delicate prairie bluebells were associated with witches — which did not enhance this plant's reputation.

Harebell flowers may seem fairy-like, appearing on slender hair-like stalks, the entire plant almost invisible before these prairie wildflowers bloom.

But that's not the whole source of the tale, and the pioneers weren't the first to feel this way.

Campanula rotundifolia, known as Harebells in England and Saskatchewan, are also called Scottish Bluebells and Aul man's bells (old man's: i.e. devil's), as well as Fairies' and Witches' Thimbles, and Witch bells. 

The juice from them — which must surely be so scant as to seem magical  was apparently an element in flying ointments, and perhaps at one time used to turn witches into hares. (For more on this folklore and magic, please visit Two Crows, Aberdeenshire artist David Watson Hood's website.)  

Blue and purple Harebell flowers bloom in prairie ditches, hayfields and meadows from June to September (Vance/Jowsey). The Cree perhaps felt more kindly towards this lovely plant than did the pioneers, and Jennings/Prairie Beauty says they used the roots for healing compresses to stop bleeding and reduce swelling

The delicate curve of the Fairies' Thimble. Harebells.  © SB 

Prairie Wildflower: Harebells. (Campanula rotundifolia)
Location: #1, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (Alberta and Saskatchewan); #2, Royal Saskatchewan Museum's native plant gardenRegina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo Date: #1, Sunrise, August 1, 2012; #2, Mid-afternoon, July 12, 2012.  


Friday, August 10, 2012

Water or Marsh Smartweed: Stalks of pink stars

Smartweed, along a Saskatchewan slough. © SB 
Today at the edge of a slough (marsh, bog, swamp, wetland), I saw Saskatchewan wildflowers that looked like stalks of pink stars: Water — or perhaps Marsh — Smartweed.

This native prairie plant turns ditches and sloughs rose pink some years in July. Smartweed is also (Vance/Jowsey) a common food for ducks.

The seeds of Marsh Smartweed are edible — nutty flavoured, according to Plants of Alberta, whose authors Royer/Dickinson say that Smartweed seeds have been found in several Native archaeological digs, leading to suggestions that the plant was cultivated for its food value.

While I took this picture, Black Terns screeched and dived, mouths full of prairie dragonflies.

Prairie Wildflower: Smartweed  Water or Marsh (Polygonum amphibium, and other names)
Location: Along the edge of a slough, north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo Date: August 10, 2012.  


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