White Snakeroot

Botanical Name : Ageratina altissima
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Ageratina
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asterales
Tribe: Eupatorieae
Species: A. altissima
Synonyms: Eupatorium ageratoides – L.f., Eupatorium rugosum – Houtt., Eupatorium urticifolium – Reichard.
Other Names: White Sanicle or Tall Boneset.

Habitat: Eastern N. America. Low woods in river valleys in Texas

Description:
It is a poisonous perennial herb in the family Asteraceae, native to eastern North America. An older binomial name for this species was Eupatorium rugosum, but the genus Eupatorium has undergone taxonomic revision by botanists and a number of the species once included there have been moved to other genera.

This  perennial plant is about 1½–3′ tall, branching occasionally. The light green to tan stems are round and largely hairless. The opposite leaves are up to 6″ long and 3½” across, becoming smaller as they ascend the stems. The lower leaves are cordate to cordate-ovate, while the upper leaves are broadly lanceolate to lanceolate. All of the leaves are largely hairless and strongly serrated along the margins. There are 3 prominent veins on the upper surface of each leaf (particularly the lower ones), while the lower surface has an elevated network of veins. The rather long petioles are ½–2½” in length.

The upper stems terminate in compound corymbs of flowerheads that span several inches across. Each flowerhead is about ½” across and contains 10-30 disk florets that are brilliant white. There are no ray florets. Each disk floret is about 1/5″ across when fully open; it consists of a small tubular corolla with 5 lobes that are spreading and pointed, and it has a divided style that is strongly exerted from the corolla. At the base of each flowerhead, there is a single series of linear floral bracts that are green and non-overlapping. The blooming period occurs from late summer through the fall and lasts about 2 months. This is one of the last wildflowers to bloom during the fall. The flowers are often fragrant. Each disk floret is replaced by a dark linear achene with a small tuft of white hairs. These achenes are distributed by the wind. The root system consists of spreading rhizomes and shallow fibrous roots. This plant can spread vegetatively by means of its rhizome, or it can reseed itself into new areas.
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They are found in woods and brush thickets where they bloom mid to late summer or fall. The flowers are a clean white color and after blooming small seeds with fluffy white tails are released to blow in the wind. This species is adaptive to different growing conditions and can be found in open shady areas with open bare ground; it can be weedy in shady landscapes and in hedgerows. There are two different varieties Ageratina altissima var. angustata and Ageratina altissima var. roanensis (Appalachian white snakeroot); they differ in the length of the flower phyllaries and shape of the apices

It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower from August to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.

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Cultivation
Succeeds in an ordinary well-drained but moisture retentive garden soil in sun or part shade. There is some difference of opinion over the correct name for this species with some authorities using Eupatorium rugosum.

Propagation
Seed – sow spring in a cold frame, only just covering the seed. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer. Division in spring.

Medicinal  Actions & Uses
Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Febrifuge; Odontalgic; Stimulant; Tonic.

The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, stimulant and tonic. It has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, gravel and urinary diseases. It has also been used in herbal sweat baths to encourage sweating. A decoction or infusion of the root has been taken to treat a fallen or inflamed womb. The root has been chewed and held in the mouth as a treatment for toothache.

Known Hazards : .
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 onto humans, and if consumed in large enough quantities 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 who had eaten snakeroot. During the early 19th century, when large numbers of Europeans (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, and it was several decades before the cause was traced to snakeroot. Notably, it was the cause of death of Nancy Hanks, mother of Abraham Lincoln. The plants are also poisonous to horses, goats, and sheep. Signs of poisoning in these animals include depression and lethargy, hind feet placed close together (horses, goats, cattle) or held far apart (sheep), nasal discharge, excessive salivation, arched body posture, and rapid or difficult breathing.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Ageratina+altissima
http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/wh_snakeroot.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Snakeroot

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One thought on “White Snakeroot”

  1. Interesting article . . . didn’t know that the plant was poisonous. I remember reading about Lincoln’s mother, but did know what caused her death. Thanks for linking to my site.

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