A snake in the grass…

Wow! That was a cool, dim, and damp morning for early August, eh? The park was very quiet, especially now that it seems only buntings and wrens are singing to mark their territory.

The closest to a newcomer I found this morning is this immature wood duck on the river. In the left/top image, you can see the characteristic ring around its eye, but much less pronounced than on a breeding female, and in the right/bottom image, you can make out the patch of blue edged in white on its wings.

The little stream from the pond down to the river, in which we saw baby bullheads and creek chub, has been dry as a bone for the past couple of days, and the rain last night filled that right back up again. This morning, I saw both critters in the river near where the stream enters, but the pictures are no better than the ones you’ve already seen.

These blossoms keep opening along the boardwalk south of the falls, but there is just one of each, and I’m having a heck of a time identifying them. My best guess today is something in the mint family (Lamiaceae), either in the hyssop genus (Agastache), or the mint genus (mentha). Species might be blue giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) or maybe horse mint (Mentha longifolia). If anyone has a better guess, please don’t keep us in suspense.

One new blossom that I’m pretty sure I have identified correctly is white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) growing in various places along the river path. Do not eat it!

As the Pedia of Wik details:

White snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol; when the plants are consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed, the poison is passed on to humans. If consumed in large enough quantities, it can cause tremetol poisoning in humans. The poisoning is also called milk sickness, as humans often ingested the toxin by drinking the milk of cows that had eaten snakeroot.

During the early 19th century, when large numbers of European Americans from the East, who were unfamiliar with snakeroot, began settling in the plant’s habitat of the Midwest and Upper South, many thousands were killed by milk sickness. Notably, milk sickness was possibly the cause of death in 1818 of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln.

It was some decades before European Americans traced the cause to snakeroot, although today Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby is credited with identifying the plant in the 1830s. Legend has it that she was taught about the plant’s properties by a Shawnee woman. The Shawnee woman’s name is lost to history, but she and her people would have had deep knowledge of the herbs and plants in the area.

In addition to cattle, the plants are also poisonous to horses, goats, and sheep. Signs of poisoning in these animals include depression and lethargy, placement of hind feet close together (horses, goats, cattle) or held far apart (sheep), nasal discharge, excessive salivation, arched body posture, and rapid or difficult breathing.

This plant may serve medicinal purposes. Root tea has been used to treat diarrheakidney stones, and fever. A root poultice can be used on snakebites.

Thus, if your goats are depressed and lethargic lately, you’d better check their pasture for white snakeroot, and don’t drink their milk. Sorry about the teaser headline, but that’s as close as I’ve come to finding a snake in Estabrook Park so far. I’m still hoping and keeping my eyes peeled, however, and if you find one, please let me know. Take a picture, if possible, and send it in.

Finally, now that it’s August, it’s time to try to sort out what if anything we might do about the calendar. You may recall that I was thinking about printing some up as a fundraiser for Friends of Estabrook Park, and I had a hope of gauging your interest by having you indicated which pictures you’d like to see in it and how many you might buy. Well, since that announcement, it appears that we only need to print up 8 of them, which isn’t much.

The possibility exists, however, that you meant to add a comment, but just forgot, or that you have joined us after that announcement. In either case, now’s your chance to chime in. I’m scheduled to report to the Friends of Estabrook Park board on August 19, so I’ve got until then to decide how many we might print, if any.

Published by Andrew Dressel

Theoretical and Applied Bicycle Mechanic, and now, apparently, Amateur Naturalist. In any case, my day job is teaching mechanics at UWM.

2 thoughts on “A snake in the grass…

  1. Hi Andy! Been loving your blog. Very meditative during a stressful day.
    Put me down for a calendar for sure!


  2. IT would be great if the calendar could be printed in time to make them for sale at the Shorewood Farmers Market during the October dates. And, how about after that some copies are at local business(es)?? Just Goods sells lots stuff made locally. Maybe there are other places, too.


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