Thursday, July 02, 2015

Name that Plant: Pretty, Pink and Much Maligned

While walking near Gravelly Point I couldn't help but notice this impressive looking plant:

It didn't take a whole lot of Googling to learn its name: Lythrum salicaria, aka Purple Loosestrife. A little research shows that in about 150 years it has gone from miracle drug to scourge. Here's a couple of highlights from its glory days:

"In the 18th century in Switzerland purple loosestrife became famous, for it cured thousands of people during a typhoid epidemic" source

"It was during the epidemic of 1848 that the sanative and healing influence of "Purple Loosestrife" was first made known by the inhabitants of North, North-East, and parts of West Lancashire, where it became the means of saving hundreds of people from death by cholera, and again in 1852-3 and 1864 and 1868 it was the means of preserving a good number from death through the same disease." source

Today, however, purple loosestrife is considered a noxious weed:

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a highly invasive non-native plant that threatens significant portions of Maryland's marsh, swamp, and coastal habitats. By crowding out native wetland species, purple loosestrife can reduce biodiversity, eliminate food sources for marsh animals and change water flow patterns.

This seems to cry out for an Eating Aliens type solution: that is, figure out how to make purple loosestrife medically valuable again, and then set the entrepreneurs to work gathering it up. In no time you'd see purple loosestrife on the endangered plant list. If there's one thing we're good at in this country, it's using up important resources!

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