Monday, August 27, 2012

A speedy way to wellness

Species name: Veronica longiflora

Common name: long-leaved speedwell

Location: Ontario

This plant is a "nearly native" wildflower common in roadside ditches and disturbed open fields. Unfortunately, it is a poor competitor in southwestern Ontario so is rarely found in large abundance in natural habitats for long since it is out-competed by native and non-native goldenrods, thistles, and other asters like daisies (likely the non-native ones), black-eyed susans, and Queen Anne's lace. This plant is very attractive to bees and other insects, and are an important food source in Canada for the Grizzled Skipper, a butterfly that actually builds itself a shelter when still a caterpillar to use at night and when it's not feeding. Pretty smart caterpillar!

Like all good things in botanical nomenclature, the genus Veronica is being reanalyzed using DNA sequencing to determine relatedness between species. The morphological variation between species in the genus is quite drastic, as are the habitats of each species, and geographic location. Since there seem to be at least two distinct groups, one having its origins in North America and the other having its origins in Australasia, it wouldn't surprise me if genetically those were two distinct genera as well. It's actually estimated that the 500 or so species of Veronica might actually fit into as many as 7 other genera once analysis is complete.

Since so many people consider this plant species a "weed" (I personally think it's actually quite attractive...), there is one good thing about this plant existing in urban areas. The entire plant is edible! The leaves reportedly taste a lot like watercress, so a peppery spinach. The flowers are also edible, but just make sure there aren't any bugs hiding in them or else you might have a nasty surprise when you bite into your salad. The roots and leaves when dried have commonly been used in traditional North American medicine in a tea that is consumed to relieve chest congestion. If you are going to attempt to eat this plant, just make sure you're not confusing it with another common species that grows in the same type of environment, skullcap. Skullcap is in the mint family and has square stems, speedwell is in the snapdragon family and has round stems. As with all wild plants, if you aren't 100% sure of the identification of the plant, don't eat it!