NORTH SMITHFIELD/BURRILLVILLE – Everything might look more beautiful than usual right now, as Rhode Island fully returns to open just in time for spring wildflowers blooming in all their natural splendor.
Ruth Pacheco’s expertise is growing herbs at her North Smithfield farm, and she’s also familiar with wildflowers. Pacheco grew up on on a farm, and some of those flowers blooming in fields and woods are also herbs.
The first plant wildflower in bloom that comes to Pacheco’s mind is sorrel.
The common yellow wood sorrel is a lemony-tart herb.
Pacheco says another wild plant in bloom now is the ajuga. That wildflower is also known as the bugleweed, and it flowers from May to June. Although it is deemed invasive, the plant has been in use for ages as medicine and parts are edible.
Bugleweed by G. Edward Johnson https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ajuga_reptans_20070429_132711_1.jpg
Another common flower of the area says Pacehco is that of money plant. Lunaria is the latin name of money plant, and parts are used either in salads or for mustard substitute.
“I would consider it a wild plant,” said Pacheco.
Later in the year, after the bloom is gone, the plant shows its characteristic, “money,” form of seedpods.
Lunaria copyright Rob Bendall https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bokeh_photo_of_Lunaria.jpg
Naturally, a common flower deemed wild that’s likely known by most everyone is the dandelion, says Pacheco.
The lowly dandelion has so many uses, and some would add so much beauty, that perhaps it is more apt to label it a flower or herb rather than weed. Dandelion is used for delicious, nutritious food, in beverages from coffee to wine, as a multi-purpose medicine. The fluff is used by various animals, and the plant is visited by bees and other friendly insects.
Another plant Pacheco says one will find blooming is nettles, otherwise known as the stinging nettle.
The plant, although it gives a nasty sting, is a favorite of many herb and wild food enthusiasts who eagerly anticipate its awakening each spring.
It’s been used for arthritis, among other health conditions, and nettles are considered by many a supremely nutritious food and nettle tea, a “spring tonic.” Of course, that’s when it’s either dried, in tea, or cooked and has lost the sting.
Like the wildflowers now opening, Pacheco’s Hi-On-A Hill herb farm, where one will find the occasional wildflowers peeking out between more cultivated plants, is ready for business.
Kathy Barton, who lives on the border of North Smithfield, has been presenting programs on native plants for over 40 years, She’s a past president of RI Wild Plant Society, and she’s co-founder of the among-ri-wildflowers.org website.
Hepatica is a wild flower that favors less acidic soil, says Barton. The plant has been traditionally been used for the liver.
Admiring the flowers is benign, but they face many threats.
“Habitat destruction is a major threat,” according to Barton.
Another wildflower found in the local area and elsewhere in Rhode Island was in the past whimsically referenced as “squirrel shoes.” Coming upon the flowers in a forest is a visual treat.
“Pink Ladyslipper is a favorite spring wild flower that blooms usually from mid-May to Memorial Day. It is the largest of our North American Orchids,” explains Barton.
The flower is in no hurry. In fact, a pink Ladyslipper “takes about 13 years to mature to the point that it can bloom,” says Barton.
Therefore, obviously wild plant experts such as Barton and others want people to leave such plants alone, not transplant or pick them or har them in any way.
“Native flora is not only part of our natural heritage, but also our cultural heritage,” states Barton.
What is more, “the common names often reflect past uses.”
For instance, “Soapwort or Bouncing Bet contains a form of soap and the name Bouncing Bet refers to the motion of a person using a washboard.”
“Even the Revolution was foreshadowed by the Pine Tree Riot of 1772 in New Hampshire,” Barton explained.
The soaring pines were used for ship masts.
“The British Parliament and King George III made a law protecting “any white pine tree of the growth of twelve inches in diameter,”according to history writer Betty Ann Sutton. “The pine tree laws were just another way of making the colonists pay taxes to the British king.”
They eventual result was a riot.
“The Pine Tree Riot… and manyother acts of rebellion grew from the anger that the citizens of New Hampshire felt [because of unjust laws]… all helped to bring New Hampshire into the Revolutionary War against Great Britain,” Sutton explained.
In the Rhode Island, during spring of 2021, the main revolution seems to be a riot of colorful wild flowers, happening now.