Saturday, March 16, 2024

Wood Betony (Canadian lousewort) - Pedicularis canadensis

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) is a perennial wildflower found across the eastern half of North America from east Texas north to Minnesota and Maine in the U.S. and in the adjoining lower tier of provinces in Canada, though it has been vouchered in Florida in only 6 counties in the Panhandle with a seventh disjunct population in Clay County south of Jacksonville.  Although its common name would suggest it otherwise, wood betony is not a mint but a member of the Orobanchaceae - a family that includes the false foxgloves (Agalinus spp.), bluehearts (Buchnera spp.), and blacksennas (Seymeria spp.) among others.  All of these are semi-parasitic on their neighbor's root systems. It is the only member of this genus native to Florida.  Throughout this vast range, it is most often found in open upland sites such as open woodlands and clearings.

Wood betony dies back to the ground in winter and reemerges again in early spring.  As it emerges, the foliage appears maroon in color, but turns a more traditional green as it matures.  The foliage occurs as a basal rosette of deeply dissected, almost fernlike leaves that may be up to 6 inches long and 1-2 inches wide.  They tend to lie parallel to the ground so that the plants rarely stand more than 6 inches tall.  

Wood betony is an early spring bloomer.  The flowers are formed in a cluster at the top of a single stalk that reaches about 12 inches in height. The color is quite variable and, to some extent, dependent on the amount of sunlight the plant receives according to the literature.  The rich rose colored upper petals in these specimens is not typical  Most commonly, the upper petals are a more brownish red and more faded.  The overall color of the blooms is a butter yellow. The early bloom time makes it an important nectar source for bees - especially the larger bodied species such as bumblebees.  

Although both attractive and useful in the landscape, its semi-parasitic nature on other plants growing with it, makes it a less-than-ideal choice for most garden settings.  I have never seen it offered for sale by any of the nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, but it is available as seed or plants from sources outside of Florida.  I have not tried any of these offerings in my own landscapes.

The above photos were taken in north Florida, by my friend and excellent nature photographer, Floyd Griffin and used by permission.


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