Other Local Wildflowers

Westborough and the surrounding area offer numberous locations with walking trails. The Westborough Reservoir is among these and offers a diversity of wildflowers in a relatively small area. Described here are wildflowers found at other locations in and around Westborough. Many of these are part of the Westborough Charm Bracelet project linking 26 miles of local trails. The Charm Bracelet site offers trail maps for many local conservation areas.


Bloodroot, Poppy family (Papaveraceae), Native


Among the earliest blossoms of spring, the showy white flower of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) opens during the day and closes at night but rarely lasts more than a couple of days. It attracts bees as pollinators, although it produces no nectar. The flower bud and the plant's large, lobed leaf come up together, drawing energy for growth from the plant's thick root. Bloodroot grows at the Walkup and Robinson Memorial Reservation in Westborough.

Bloodroot owes its name to the acrid reddish sap in its stem and root. Native Americans and colonists used the sap to make a red-orange dye for clothing and baskets. Mixed with animal fat, the sap served as face paint for Native Americans. They also rubbed it on their skin as an insect repellent.

Native Americans had various medicinal uses for bloodroot, such as treating rheumatism with tea made from the root. They also put the sap on a lump of maple sugar and sucked it to alleviate sore throats, a remedy that colonists adopted. In American medicine of the past, the root provided an ingredient for cough syrup. In recent decades, an extract called sanguinarine has been used commercially as a plaque-fighting ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash.

A member of the poppy family, bloodroot contains some of the same chemicals found in other plants in the family, including the opium poppy. The root is considered toxic and should not be ingested.

Trout-lily or Dog Tooth Violet, Lily family (Liliaceae), Native

Another view Trout Lily

Hard to spot but rewarding to find, trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) is a forest flower of early spring. The mottled pattern on its leaves and the brownish coloring on the outside of its flower petals camouflage it among last year's dried leaves. The inside of the nodding, bell-shaped flower offers a more dramatic sight, with bright yellow petals and thick orange stamens (male flower parts).

The odd name trout-lily may come from the time of year that the plant blooms--early in spring, around trout season. Another explanation is that the name comes from the similarity of the mottled leaves to the pattern on the sides of certain trout. The camouflaging mottled pattern may also be responsible for another name, fawn lily.

The plant has two other unlikely names. One is dog tooth violet. Although the plant is a lily, not a violet, it may have acquired this name because it blooms when violets bloom. The description "dog tooth" may refer to the pointed end of the bulb-like corm from which the plant grows. The second unlikely name is adder's-tongue, which is possibly related to the lance-like shape of its two leaves, suggesting a forked tongue.

Trout-lily grows in dense beds, spreading as the bulb-like corms send down threads that form small new corms several inches underground. Young corms send out leaves and more corm-producing threads, but they do not bloom for several years. The whole network of threads and corms helps to hold the soil together in an area, preventing erosion. Eventually flowers produce seeds, many of which are distributed by ants. The seeds form new corms the following spring.

Young trout-lily leaves have been cooked as greens, and the corms, like the bulbs of many lilies, have been cooked as a vegetable. Native Americans found medicinal uses for trout-lily, using root tea for fevers, making poultices for sores and splinters, and even eating uncooked leaves for contraception. Present-day research indicates that water extracts of the plant act against bacteria.

Birdfoot Violet, Violet family (Violaceae), Native

Birdfoot Violet

Considered one of the most beautiful violets, birdfoot violet (Viola pedata) grows at the Andrews-Nourse conservation area, sometimes right in the middle of the paths. The showy light blue or purple flowers are not bearded (hairy), and orange stamens (male flower parts) protrude beak-like from their centers. Birdfoot violet gets its name from its leaves, which are not heart-shaped like those of so many other violets, but instead are deeply divided, resembling a bird's claw-like foot.

Birdfoot violet is capable of blooming a second time in a year, typically in the fall. The plants favor sunny, dry, sandy locations.

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Copyright © Anne A. Reid 1999-2002
Photographs copyright © Garry K. Kessler 1999-2002

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