Friday, May 11, 2012

The Tortoise

Little tortoise in this case is the garden plant "turtlehead".

Turtlehead is another little garden gem that seems to have faded from popularity.  Turtlehead is also known as balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom.

My garden boasts:  The large pink Chelone obliqua speciosa given to me by my friend, Shelly.   A little pink variety whose name is unknown to me.  A pretty little white variety called Chelone glabra L. "Alba" saved from a garden about to be bulldozed. 

Let's start by stating the positive qualities:
  • Perennial.
  • Planted in favorable conditions, they might outlast all human owners.
  • The Chelone obliqua speciosa is a native Illinois turtlehead wildflower.  It and other varieties are native to the Eastern part of the US.
  • Attractive to pollinating insects.
  • Stiff upright 2-3 foot stems topped by flowers blooming from midsummer to early fall.
  • Highly pest resistant.
  • Deer usually don't eat the bitter leaves.
  • Foliage is pretty all summer.
  • Great for bogs, stream and lake sides. 
  • Herbalist use Turtlehead plants as a natural medicine. Traditional practices create a tonic from this plant that is claimed to be beneficial for indigestion, constipation, and stimulating the appetite. It is also an anthimintic (de-wormer) and a salve from the leaves may relieve itching and inflammation.

  • Plant in full sun to partial shade.
  • Likes rich, humusy, moist and well-drained soil.
  • Mow or pull if it spreads into unwanted areas.
  • Likes consistently damp soil.
  • Water during drought - keep mulched.
  • Cut down or break off dried stalks in late fall or spring.
  • Zone hardiness to 4.
My turtlehead plants grow in less than perfect conditions and still do well. 
The Cute:
The turtle head shaped flower is the whole cute point of having this plant.  From the Figwort family, it is often described as looking like a snapdragon.

Always fun to know the reason plants are named:  The genus Chelone contains 4 species of North American native perennials that are named after a mythical Greek nymph. The nymph Chelone was too loud at Zeus' wedding and as punishment was transformed into a tortoise by the angry god, condemning her to eternal silence.

Turtlehead is another of the old time flowers that gardeners might want to bring back.  You may have to beg it from a friend as it's not often in nurseries.  A few on-line sources claim they carry.   

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