Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh


Doll’s Eyes (Actaea pachypoda)

A close relative of Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), this plant has smaller round tufts of white flowers. But its most striking feature is these berries, white with black pupil-like spots. Doll’s Eyes is certainly a descriptive name, but perhaps Insane Muppet Eyes would be even more descriptive. (The bright magenta stem adds a certain something.) This plant grew in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon, where it was fruiting in late August.

Do not eat the berries. They want to kill you. Can’t you see it in their eyes? Another name for this plant is “White Baneberry,” and you should take the “bane” part seriously.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ACTAÈA L. BANEBERRY, COHOSH. Sepals 4 or 6, falling off when the flower expands. Petals 4-10, small, flat, spatulate, on slender claws. Stamens numerous, with slender white filaments. Pistil single; stigma sessile, depressed, 2-lobed. Seeds smooth, flattened, and packed horizontally in 2 rows. — Perennials, with ample 2-3-ternately compound termina! raceme of white flowers. (From aktea, actaea, ancient names of the Elder, transferred by Linnaeus.)

A. álba (L.) Mill. (WHITE B.) Leaflets more incised and sharply toothed [than those of A. rubra]; raceme ellipsoid; petals slender, mostly truncate at the end, appearing to be transformed stamens; pedicels thickened in fruit, as large as the peduncle and red, the globular-ovoid berries white. — Rich woods, flowering a week or two later than the other [which flowers in April and May], and more common westward and southward.


Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

This is by far our most common lobelia, a close relative both of the little blue lobelias that dangle from our hanging baskets and the stately Cardinal Flowers that adorn our perennial gardens. It likes an open woodland or the shady margin of a meadow, but it will also spring up in the middle of a sunny lawn given half a chance. The flowers are pale blue, often almost white. The species name inflata refers to the puffed-up seedpods that develop after the flowers.

The plant in this picture was blooming in early August in a shady lawn in Mount Lebanon.

The name “Indian Tobacco” comes from the fact that certain Indian tribes smoked the stuff, in which practice they were imitated by some of the English colonists. All accounts say the taste and stench are at least as foul as those of real tobacco. It is, as Gray points out, poisonous, and regrettably still “a noted quack medicine” today.

Lobelias are placed in their own family Lobeliaceae by Gray, but most modern botanists place them in the family Campanulaceae, the Bellflower Family, often as a subfamily called Lobelioideae.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

LOBELIA [Plumier] L. Calyx 6-cleft, with a short tube. Corolla with a straight tube split down on the (apparently) upper side, somewhat 2-lipped; the upper lip of 2 rather erect lobes, the lower lip spreading and 3-cleft. Two of the anthers in our species bearded at the top. Pod 2-celled, many-seeded, opening at the top. — Flowers axillary or chiefly in bracted racemes; in summer and early autumn. (Dedicated to Matthias de l’Obel, an early Flemish herbalist.)

Flowers blue, or blue variegated with white.

Flowers smaller (corolla-tube not more than 4-8 mm. long).

Stem leafy, often paniculately branched; flowers loosely racemose; sinuses of calyx not appendaged; annual or biennial.

Leaves ovate or oblong, obtusely toothed; pod inflated, wholly inferior.

L. inflàta L. (INDIAN TOBACCO.) Stems paniculately much branched from an annual root, pubescent with spreading hairs, 3-8 dm. high; leaves gradually diminishing into leaf-like bracts, which exceed the lower short-pediceled flowers; calyx-tube ovoid; corolla only 3-4 mm. long. — Dry open fields and thickets. — Plant poisonous and a noted quack medicine.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Elecampane is a tall and striking flower, imported from Europe. It is not particularly common around here, but abundant where it does take up residence. These plants were blooming in Highland Park in late July.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ÍNULA L. ELECAMPANE. Heads many-flowered, radiate; disk-flowers perfect and fertile. Involucre Imbricated, hemispherical, the outer bracts herbaceous or leaf-like. Receptacle naked. Anthers caudate. Achenes more or less 4-5-ribbed; pappus simple, of capillary bristles. — Coarse herbs, not floccose-woolly, with alternate simple leaves, and large yellow heads. (The ancient Latin name.)

I. Helènium L. (ELECAMPANE.) Stout perennial, 1-1.6 m. high; leaves large, woolly beneath; those from the thick root ovate, petioled, the others partly clasping; rays very many, narrow. — Roadsides and damp pastures. Aug. — Heads very large. Root mucilaginous. (Nat. from Eu.)