Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visiting the Rocky Mountains -- Early Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, part 2

aspens in April
aspens in April
We drove to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park at the beginning of April from the lowlands at the base of the Rocky Mountains.  If you don’t know the area, Estes Park is the city at the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Unless you camp in RMNP, if you come from the east, you are likely to stay in Estes Park to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.  

Estes Park is a small city, not a forest reserve. There are a number of towns with park in their name at about 8000 feet on the front range of Colorado. It means a level area up in the mountains. (From the Oxford English Dictionary: "park. In some parts of the United States, especially Colorado and Wyoming: a high plateau-like valley among the mountains." )

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Visiting the Rocky Mountains -- Early Spring in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

The first of April is very early spring at 7,500 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, but we had a lovely time in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even though most of the plants were dormant, they were beautiful--

Aspen (Populus tremuloides) leafless for a few more weeks
aspen, Populus tremuloides
aspen, Populus tremuloides

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Plant Story - Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, a plant species complex

Achillea millefolium, yarrow
Achillea millefolium, yarrow
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium (sunflower family, Asteraceae) is a small perennial plant found around the world. It is a medicinal herb in both modern and traditional medicines (see previous post: link) and is an attractive, easily-grown garden flower and in some places, a weed.

Very few plant species are listed as native to Europe, Asia and North America but that is the case for Achillea millefolium.  

Actually, yarrow is what botanists call a species complex. I will outline the situation as I understand it, because this sort of complexity is surprisingly common in plants, although yarrow does it particularly well.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plant Story-- Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, an Ancient Healing Herb

Achillea millefolium yarrow
Achillea millefolium yarrow
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a familiar  wildflower with an interesting and confused history. A member of the very large sunflower family, Asteraceae, it is quite closely related to wild and cultivated chamomiles.

Yarrow was named Achillea millefolium by Linnaeus in 1753. The genus name is based on the idea that Achilles, Spartan hero and demigod in the Iliad of Homer, used yarrow to heal wounds. I wanted to include the exact quote and was surprised by what I found. The Iliad never mentions yarrow. The healing passage, paraphrased frequently as "Achilles used yarrow to heal his soldiers" is quoted below and is both quite vague and has the healing done by Patroclus. (Bk XI:804-848 Patroclus tends Eurypylus’ wound. Iliad A.S. Kline 2009 Read the whole passage: link )

    The wounded Eurypylus replied:...'help me to my black ship, and cut out the arrow-head, and wash the dark blood from my thigh with warm water, and sprinkle soothing herbs with power to heal on my wound, whose use men say you learned from Achilles, whom the noble Centaur, Cheiron, taught. ...’

       ... Patroclus lowered the wounded man to the ground, and cut the sharp arrow-head from his thigh. Next he washed the dark blood from the place with warm water, and rubbing a bitter pain-killing herb between his hands sprinkled it on the flesh to numb the agony. Then the blood began to clot, and ceased to flow.

Alternatively, Achilles is reported to have healed the festering spear wound of King Telephus of Mysia. This appears not in the Iliad but in other sources of Greek mythology (see citations). In any event, the spear wound of Telephus is cured by scrapings from the spear that caused the injury, suggested by Odysseus, not Achilles, and no mention is made of yarrow. (See whole myth: Telephus)