In Bloom: Snakeroot

White Snakeroot. Anne Holmes, illustrator

White Snakeroot. Anne Holmes, illustrator

By Suzanne Wodek

Ageratina altissima, also known as white snakeroot is a poisonous herb in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. Ageratina comes from the Greek meaning ‘un-aging’ in reference to flowers that keep their color for a long time. Altissima means ‘tall’. Native Americans reportedly used a poultice of the roots as a remedy for snakebites, hence the common name. An older binomial name for this species is Eupatorium regosum. The plant is typically found in woods, thickets and rocky areas. Planting places include cottage and woodland gardens, and naturalized areas. Snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol. When the plant is eaten by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed by humans, the poison is passed on, causing “milk sickness.” In the 1800s, thousands were killed by milk sickness. It is believed that the death in 1818 of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was due to this plant. Small, bright white, fluffy flowers in flattened clusters sit atop stems that can reach 3’ to 5’ tall. After blooming, the seeds with fluffy tails are released in the wind. If deadheaded, the flowers continue to bloom until frost. This is a somewhat weedy perennial that can spread aggressively by rhizomes and self-seeding. Snakeroot is modestly resistant to damage from deer because of its bitter foliage. The flowers are attractive to butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators. Songbirds eat the seeds.

Upcoming Events

Fall Plant and Rummage Sale at The Botanical Gardens Saturday, September 14, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Numerous local plant vendors will offer a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers for fall planting. BGA members will get a 10 percent discount on BGA-grown plants sold at the gazebo. As always, this event will take place rain or shine. The Botanical Gardens receives its funding exclusively through membership, donations, gift shop sales and the spring and fall plant sales. Free admission and parking on-site or nearby.

Native Grasses Sunday, September 22, 2–4 p.m.

This class will start in the Butler Room and continue in the Gardens. Participants will gain an appreciation of diverse native grass flora here in the Southern Appalachians with an emphasis on WNC. The natural communities in which grasses occur will be discussed and specimens of common native grasses will be provided for differentiating species and identifying key characteristics. Gary Kauffman has been the botanist/ecologist program manager for the National Forests in NC since April of 2007. Since 2002, he has coordinated the invasive plant program across four NC forests and continues to serve as the Forest botanical products specialist. Other duties include planning revision at the forest level, restoration of rare plant populations and rare plant communities, and NEPA compliance for forest projects. He has a master’s degree in botany/mycology and has been with the US Forest Service since 1992.

Participants must pre-register and pre-pay for classes by calling 828-252-5190. Cost for the workshop is $15 for BGA members and $20 for non-members.

The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W. T. Weaver Blvd., is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Learn more at AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.

Leave a Comment