Northland Nature: The late summer yarrow is popular with gardeners and herbalists
Plants of the August roadsides and meadows are quite diverse. Many stand tall and are easy to see. These include patches of purple fireweeds and milkweeds; yellow goldenrods, black-eyed susans, sunflowers and robust mulleins and white late summer...
Plants of the August roadsides and meadows are quite diverse. Many stand tall and are easy to see. These include patches of purple fireweeds and milkweeds; yellow goldenrods, black-eyed susans, sunflowers and robust mulleins and white late summer asters, daisies and yarrows.
About one to two feet tall, yarrows can get overlooked when out among other blooming plants. However, the plant has not been passed over by the herbalists. In the minds of many, there is no better plant than the yarrow for treatment of a wide variety of maladies. Indeed, this medicinal connection is probably why we now see this white flower of European origin in the Northland. The gardens of dozens of New England colonists had a patch of yarrow. Even many of the modern-day herbalists still use yarrow as a medical companion. The domestic pink variety has also made yarrow a desirable plant among the flower gardeners as well. Whether it's to attract butterflies or just look nice, yarrow has found a garden home. Tradition has it that one of its uses was that of helping to stop the flow of a bloody wound. Achilles is said to have always carried yarrow with him and use it to treat wounded soldiers during the Trojan wars. This explains yarrow's Latin name: Achillea.
Because of its uses and high demand, the plant spread out far from its origin. Like many of the late summer flowers that came over here from Europe, it got established in the wild and now seems to do well in a variety of habitats. Of all the wild flowers in North America, the yarrow may be one of the most widespread. Nature observers have found it in regions as varied as ocean beaches to mountain meadows. Though never a dominant plant, it grows in all types of sites, only avoiding the shade. Here in the north country, it does best in open fields.
Clusters of white flowers grow in a flat group at the top of the plant. Here in this floral arrangement are the small five-rayed flowers. Like many of those blooming in mid to late summer, yarrow is a composite. Flowers are composed of rays that surround the tiny disk flowers. The finely divided leaves are often mistaken for those of carrots or ferns. Leaves are attached to the single stem and over a length of a couple of inches, they taper to a point.
Flowers began to bloom in our region already in late spring or early summer and with a very long season, a few will linger into the late fall. As hardy as they are, yarrow has even been observed in bloom in November. Even during the winter, we will see the dried plants with their fluffy seeds standing up through the snow. But this time in late summer may be the best time to observe this European herbal flower, either in fields or gardens.
Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac" and "Butterflies of the Northwoods." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.