Uvularia sessilifolia L., or more commonly known as Wild Oats was a plant that caught the eye of our hikers today on a birding walk that celebrated International Migratory Bird Day in the small town of Ferryville, Wisconsin located on The Great River Road, situated next to the Mississippi River.
This plant, new to me, made me laugh as it drew on my background knowledge of words, Latin roots, and human anatomy. The uvula is the part of the posterior pharynx (throat) that hangs down and lifts up when one says, “ah” for your examining physician. The plant’s yellow flower hangs downward, just as your uvula does. Our hike leader, a physician, knew his anatomy as well as his latin, for he told the group that uvula means “little grape” in the ancient language. Wild Oats or Uvularia sessilifolia L. is part of the lily family and blooms in the spring. The leaves might remind you of another spring blooming plant, lily of the valley. For more about this woodland bloomer, you can check this website: Friends of the Wildflower Garden. Wild Oats is a native perennial forb. Forbs are flowering herbaceous plants that are not a grass with buds at or below the ground surface. This feature helps them to withstand fire, whether prescribed or natural.
Another plant I heard of but had not seen until this morning’s hike was May Apple or Mandrake! This is an unusual plant with a large, flat leaf that is held upward and outward like an umbrella, with colors of green and some reddish brown. The stem supports this leaf and will have an offshoot of a single white flower a little later in the season. We were only able to flower buds today beneath the leaves. This plant is considered poisonous with the exception of the ripe fruit (which still may be toxic to some). The toxicity arises from a chemical substance called Podophyllin in the roots. An allergic reaction can also occur in some people sensitive to this compound when the rhizomes or roots are handled. For more information on this plant, you can go to: https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/mayapple.html
The Mayapple likes moist woodland soils and can be found under larger, tall trees that form a canopy and offer dappled light. This is exactly the type of environment in which we found it growing today. The scientific name for May Apple is Mayapple – Podophyllum pefltatum L. This is an unusual plant and no other plant resembles it in North American, being the only one of its genus, according to the Friends of the Wildflower Garden website. If you’d like more insight into this mostly poisonous plant, there is an informative article on The Spruce from earlier this year. When I looked into this plant this afternoon and saw its name, all I could think of was the Harry Potter story that includes Mandrakes (of course, these live plants were not as animated as the screaming ones featured in those books and movies). Historically, this plant has oft been featured in literature in both Britain and the United States. I can see why; I find it fascinating.
Pheasant Back Fungi
Lastly, we came across a beautiful Pheasant Back or Dryad’s saddle fungus. I was thrilled that I just learned of this fungi last week from one of our college mycology club hike leaders, Dylan. His description of the fungi as a group of us were able to touch and observe it obviously stuck with me, as I was able to identify it for others on our birding hike today. This fungi is aptly named, as you can just imagine a pheasant’s back feathers unfolded to reveal the beautiful brown plumage. Pheasant Back Fungus is edible, and supposedly quite delicious. However, I do not believe anyone removed this beautiful specimen today. For more information, you can check out this page: Midwest Mycology. Pheasant Back Fungus is found in spring, around the same time as morels.
Our birding walk was enjoyed by all today, or so it seemed. I know I loved hearing the variety of bird calls and learning a little bit more about the different species of migratory birds we have come through the major flyway in our area that follows the Mississippi River. But, if I were really being honest, I found the plants much more interesting!