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  • Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place


Western Snakeroot

Ageratina occidentalis - Western snakeroot.

In my conversation with Courtney Allen, Director of Public Programs for the Native Plant Trust (previously the New England Wildflower Society) last week, she shared her own practice of trying to learn 3 new plants a day.

My ears perked up when she shared this and some of yours did too based on emails and messages from you. It kind of rocked me to think about it. I know a lot of plants, but I could easily set myself a goal of learning 3 new ones each day and still have a hard time learning all of the native plants of my region in the next decade. AND I LOVE that fact.

Learning a new plant – their faces, their seasonal garb and growth, their places, their friends – this is an unequivocal sign of caring, of respecting, and of valuing. And to give your time to such a task – even if it was just ONE new plant learned well a week – this my plant-loving friends would be time well spent in our own lives, and for all the lives around us.

Once we learn and know another life in such personal detail – there’s no telling what we’ll do on their behalf….

Western snakeroot with bumblebees.

In the podcast breaks of the episode, I threw it out that this discipline/habit/practice of consciously incorporating learning new plants into my own life on some sort of regular basis seemed like a good one. I decided I would take on a 12 month project using the hashtag #MyPlantoftheMonthCP in order to share one new-to-me plant each month with all of you on Instagram. And I invited you all to do the same with me. You can use the hashtag or not, as you like. I'll use it for at least 1 post during the first week of each month for the next year.

My hope is that this practice will add to my own ability to "see familiar things (the plants around me all the time, on roadsides and in fields and gardens) with new eyes," that I'll really learn the names and ways of these new plant friends, which is outright FUN for me, and it will get me outside observing and present with regularity - and the accountability of sharing this learning with you all.

Thank you to Pam Pearce of @thewalledgarden whose #MyPlantoftheMonthCP is Puya alpestris ’Sapphire Tower’ which she met while on a visit in San Diego, and Charron Andrews whose #MyPlantoftheMonthCP is American Persimmon. They each emailed me their plants on the first day after hearing my idea on the podcast - feel free to do the same if you don’t use Instagram to actually post. I'd love to share other people's new plant learning here and in the podcast.

HERE’s my first #myplantofthemonthcp pick - which I met only yesterday. Western Snakeroot (AKA Western eupatorium - synonymous with Eupatorium occdentalis): Ageratina occidentalis.

John and I passed a 40-foot patch of these flowering clumps on our way to a hike this past week. At about 5,000 feet in elevation, at the edge of a mixed conifer forest, they were in full bloom, in full sun on a hot (maybe 80 degrees F), baked-rocky roadside. Even while driving by, we could see that they were loaded with bumblebees and butterflies. We pulled over.

John thought he recalled that they were some relation to ageratum, but neither of us knew their name. We sat with them for some time, taking photos, paying attention to their size and visitors, and then looked them up on CNPS’s Calscape and in our Jepson Manual when we got home. Calscape says: "species of flowering plant in the daisy family (ASTERACEAE) known by the common name western snakeroot. Native to the western US, it grows in several types of habitat. It's a rhizomatous perennial herb growing fuzzy green or purple stems to a maximum height near 70 centimeters. The hairy leaves are triangular in shape with serrated edges. Dense clusters of fuzzy flower heads contain long, protruding disc florets in shades of white, pink, and blue. There are no ray florets. The fruit is an achene a few millimeters long with a rough, bristly pappus."

Western snakeroot welcoming summer butterflies.

I love this new friend and am anxious to see about sourcing plants or seeds to try in our native dry flowering borders come next growing season.

While I won't be too rigid about my monthly plant picks being natives to my region, I would guess they mostly will be. I hope this new lifelonglearning activity will keep me expanding my knowledge of my local flora and deepening my understanding of plant families and their shared traits - such as their growth habits, seed and flower forms, preferred habitats, and known animal visitors. And - of course - if they just might do well in the home garden ;)

I am already having fun with this - and really looking forward to what others of us learn and share - thanks to any of you who choose to join in.

Happy August!




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Western snakeroot in place....

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