Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Monday, June 16, 2014

The plant genus with the angel and the devil

Angel flower versus Devil flower
Vinegar weed (Trichostema lanceolatum) is a really pretty little plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae). What a cute lavender flower. But boy oh boy if you rub your fingers on the leaves then smell it, it will curl your toes, knock your socks off, wake you right up, and then put X's over your eyes! I compare it to that ammonia capsule that someone waves under your nose to wake you up from a dead faint.

I like vinegar and that's no vinegar. Other names for this little plant are turpentine weed and camphor weed. I think it's even worse than that. Maybe it is all of the above and more stuff thrown in.

Pleasanton Ridge
Here's that blooming vinegar weed!
Today we went up to our favorite vinegar weed location, Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park.

Many little plants were popping up with their fuzzy gray-green leaves. Not many with flowers, and we couldn't be absolutely sure they were vinegar weed. So we had to brave the finger test and, YES, they were Vinegar Weeds. (Cue the X's over the eyes!) They are starting their growth spurt - when other plants are already resting for the summer. We did find one or two plants that had started to flower at the height of a couple inches.

But how can vinegar weed be so closely related to one of the best smelling native plants, woolly bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum)? I have no idea!

Taken at U.C. Santa Cruz
The woolly bluecurls plant is also pretty, but it is good smelling. Woolly bluecurls reminds me of pineapple and mint.

Its range is Central and Southern California. I've never actually seen it in the wild - just in my yard and other people's yards. I see that it was reported in the Berkeley Hills in the 1940's (

Both plants are in the mint family, Lamiaceae, which contains lots of strong smellers. The native Americans used both plants medicinally (see below). I couldn't find any chemical profiles for plants in the genus, Trichostema, like have been done for stinkwort. I will keep looking.

Other musings:

Is there any pollinator brave enough to pollinate Vinegar weed? I see from Calflora photos that bees must visit. Is the flower less potent? Must find out.

What do the plant names mean? I checked here on Calflora's page: California Plant Names:

Trichostema - Trichos'tema: from trichos, "hair," and stema, "stamens," and alluding to the hair-like stamens (ref. genusTrichostema). Very true, cute stamens!
lanatum - covered with long, woolly hair. Very true!
lanceolatum - lance-like, referring to the shape of the leaves, although I prefer to think that it refers to having your senses assaulted.

Additional references:
University of Michigan Native American Ethnobotany Vinegarweed
University of Michigan Native American Ethnobotany Wooly bluecurls
USDA: Vinegarweed
USDA: Wooly bluecurls

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