(Aletris was an ancient grain-grindin’ slave girl, in reference to the grainy flowers. Lutea means yellow.)
Nartheciaceae (traditionally Liliaceae)
John and I took a happy gander at the Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm Beach, Florida, this week, a wondrous restoration of a long-abused and neglected area. If you like wading birds, a must-visit. There is even a comfortable covered viewing gazebo. The restoration is still a little fresh …just the place for Colic Root, waving its magic yellow wands, a little weird and very pretty. This is a species of wet meadows, wet prairies, and open pine woods after fire. Fire seems to bring it forth abra cadabra, along with a suite of wet-foot co-lovlies, such as Sunnybells and Painted Sedges.
Take a brief drone flight over the scorched meadow to see Colic Root in the wind: CLICK
Aletris species exist only as a handful in the Southeastern United States and a far-distant second handful in eastern Asia. Given the widespread medicinal uses by ancient-to-modern patients in the U.S. against digestive complaints we’ll call “colic,” I wonder if the same pertains in Asia. Most bioactive plant species collect a catalog of historical medicinal applications, and it is intriguing when there’s a pattern to the attributed benefits. (But do not try…these species come with toxins, and there seems to be historical confusion with similar species.)
Tummy-ache is not the only recurrent application; another is to counter “female trouble.” I don’t know exactly what that is, but others have speculated plausibly that the demonstrated presence of estrogen mimics (don’t eat the weeds) may explain the old gynecological usage. The plants come armed with diosgenin, a natural steroid employed commercially as a precursor in making human steroidal pharmaceuticals, including early birth control pills.
Our Aletris has bumps on the yellow flowers, a characteristic known from only one of the Asian species. When a trait is as striking as those warts, this blog is duty-bound to speculate. One with nothing better to do could cook up notions, from blocking light to insect deterrence, but there is a clue: gumminess. Not stinky, and they do not pop to release liquid. They are fairly firm, yet just a little tacky So here is what I think, not fact, mere speculation. They gradually over an extended period collectively release a protective varnish onto the outside of the flower. These are plants of wide open, windy, sun-blazed living hells for a delicate flower. I’ll bet that sticky coating protects against the oppressive elements.
The bumps come in three basic forms: 1. Round-topped and sometimes a little translucent. 2. Flat-topped and then sometimes with ragged edges, like a spent volcano. And 3. Erupting like a volcano. Just guessing here, but it looks like the young round bumps bust open up top to put forth their varnish, leaving the raggedy dead volcanoes behind. This ongoing with thousands of bumps in different stages would protect a flower spike for a long time.