Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Herb of the Week: Blue Cohosh

I feel a day is wasted unless you have learned something new. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, just something new. After taking a recent hike to snap some spring wildflower pictures, I found out that new thing for the day. During the hike I saw some blue cohosh that had just sprouted up and was in flower (see picture below). It sported deep maroon flowers rather than the light green ones I was used too. I snapped some pictures and looked it up when I got back. This is when I learned that new thing.

I never realized there was more than one species of blue cohosh but it seems there are two. The maroon flowers were an indication of Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) whereas the species I was more familiar with, Caulophyllum thalictroides, has more numerous, light green flowers.

Both plants overlay much of the same native range though C. thalictroides ranges a little farther south and west than its sister species. (See for range details.) As for how to tell which species it is other than by its flower? Well, C. giganteum blooms 10-15 days earlier and has larger and less pinnately divided leaves than C. thalictroides. Exact differences according to one source were:
The two species differ somewhat vegetatively. The ultimate leaf segments of  C. giganteum are 5–10 cm long and first leaf is 2- or, more commonly, 3-times pinnately divided. The ultimate leaf segments of C. thalictroides are 3–8 cm long and the first leaf is 3- or, more commonly, 4-times pinnately divided.
It was a good day for something new indeed!

Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) in flower:

Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) in flower

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) in flower:

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) in flower

Blue Cohosh foliage:

Blue Cohosh

Blue Cohosh fruits (green) early/midsummer:

Blue Cohosh fruits (green) early/midsummer

Blue Cohosh fruits (ripe) late summer:

Blue Cohosh fruits (ripe) late summer