When I wrote the title for this piece I wondered whether people would think I was introducing them to some kind of mythic creature that roams the Ice Age Trail! Quite the contrary: This week I’m featuring a beautiful spring wildflower that goes by the not-so-beautiful name of Hoary Puccoon.
I was delighted to see this spring wildflower during a recent walk along the Trail in the Steenbock Preserve, just up from the Merrimac Ferry Wayside. It was the first time I’ve seen Hoary Puccoon in this spot but it’s the first time I’ve seen such a profusion of plants in bloom. One more testament to the work that the Ice Age Trail Alliance has been doing over the years to restore the prairie that once existed in this area.
The Hoary Puccoon is a relatively short plant and is easy to see with it’s bright yellow color. It is called “hoary” because of the downy appearance of its leaves which, on close inspection, appear to have fine hairs. “Puccoon” comes from the Powhatan (Amerindian) tribe’s word “poughkone,” who used the roots of the plant to make red dye that was used for pottery, basketry, and personal adornment. The Hoary Puccoon is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in open habitats like prairies and tends to like dry conditions. While it is common across the midwest, it is difficult to propagate from seed so it typically not found in home gardens.
I have a special memory of the first time I was introduced to the Hoary Puccoon. It was some years ago and I was part of a group of Ice Age Trail Alliance members who were hiking the Trail on the Steenbock Preserve. Among our group was Roy Gromme, son of famed wildlife artist Owen Gromme. Roy had a strong love of the outdoors and was a champion for conservation of our outdoor resources. He and his wife, Sue were very involved with and supportive of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. I distinctly remember Roy pointing out the Hoary Puccoon, excited to be able to alert others to this beautiful gem.
You don’t have to know the name of every flower that you see along the Ice Age Trail in order to appreciate it. That said, I have been having fun using a free app that I downloaded on my phone, an app called Seek by iNaturalist, which enables me to learn the names of the plants that I come across. One more way to deepen my appreciation of the wonders to be found….Along the Ice Age Trail.
Patti Herman live in the City of Lodi with her husband, Bill Welch. A retired educator, Patti is glad to be living in the Lodi Valley where she is surrounded by so much natural beauty, including the beauty to be found along the Ice Age Trail.