Pollinator Week: Hoary Plants

Today, my son and I walked the trails at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on Brice Prairie. It is a designated site of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It’s pollinator week and I’m participating in Miles for Monarchs, through Monarch Joint Venture, trying to get in 25 miles of walking from June 22nd – June 28th.  This trek will help accumulate my milage to help support a species I’ve cared for since 2002. 

The trails are well maintained and offer a variety of chances to view both the flora and fauna of a prairie. I’ve set off on a personal journey of learning to identify more prairie plants on sight.  I found that if I hike, photograph a plant I am unsure of, look it up in a prairie field guide upon arriving home, I am more likely to be able to identify the plant in the future.

Earlier, on a walk at the Holland Sand Prairie, another protected sight in our town there were many yellow flowering plants. One of these, my husband and I made fun of after one of our previous hikes – the Hoary Puccoon.  The name just makes us laugh! I am a huge fan of learning new words and have a fairly extensive vocabulary because of it.  This, as well as taking Latin for my foreign language in high school, helps me to identify word meanings of which I am unfamiliar.

The word hoary is not common. I’ve known it for a few years but did not have a grasp as to what it meant, especially when it referred to plants. Today, while walking the prairie at the refuge, I saw a plant and exclaimed to my son, “I believe that is Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta).”  I remembered the tall purple spikes from prairie walks last year, but I also knew I’d verify the plant’s identity when I got home. This observation, of yet another “hoary plant” set off a spiel of laughter again about the word hoary! I know this sounds very juvenile but I’m generally a very serious person, so when I find something to laugh about, I do! And, we are talking about a plant here – the laughter wasn’t hurting anyone

Hoary vervain just starting to bloom on Brice Prairie at USFWS Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge.  © Carol Labuzzetta, 2020.

Upon arriving home, I was pleased to be able to verify that, yes, we had seen Hoary vervain. When we stopped snickering about it, my husband sincerely asked what the word hoary meant. I couldn’t respond, so I googled it.

Hoary, according to Merriam Webster online dictionary, is both an old word and a word meaning old! Dictionary.com tells us that hoary mean gray or white with age. Perhaps, however, the Lexico.com website tells us, more appropriately, how the word hoary applies to plants.  This site states that the word hoary is “attributive” indicating short hairs or white fur covering the leaves, stem, or body (of species such as the hoary bat).

© Carol Labuzzetta, 2020.

And, therein lies the Prairie Connection!  Many prairie plants over the millennia have developed attributes that helped them to adapt and survive the prairie environment. Some of these adaptations are thin (or elongated) leaves, hair covered stems or leaves, and long roots. The descriptors of hair covered or grayish coloration are both applicable to Hoary vervain! In fact, the reference book Prairie Plants (2014), states, “Hoary vervain is usually quite tall and its stems, leaves, and spikes are gray-hairy.” (pg. 338).

So, today, I learned that I can appropriately identify Hoary vervain and what the word hoary means, literally. Although I cannot use this information immediately, I will store it away like a squirrel stores acorns in the fall for future use.  There will come a time that I can share it with more people than just my blog readers. Of that, I am sure!

At the beginning of my post, I did mention that it is pollinator week! So, to conclude this post, I investigated what pollinators Hoary vervain attracts. According to several sites*, Hoary vervain attracts many types of bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, leaf-cutting bees, green metallic bees, butterflies, skippers, and thread-waisted wasps. According to the Joyful Butterfly website, it is a nectar plant for many species of butterflies, including the Common Buckeye!

Horticulturally, it is a zone 3 plant which means it is hardy here in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin (Zones 4a and 4b).  It is a native plant in the midwest and can be purchased by seed or bare root from Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, MN.



Michigan State University

The Joyful Butterfly

*Pollinators at Cornercopia

Prairie Moon Nursery – Winona

Cochrane, T. S., et. al. (2014).  Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Arboretum. 


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