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.

Marsh Blue Violet, Violet family (Violaceae), Native

Marsh Violet

As its name would suggest, marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata) inhabits wet, swampy areas. It grows in wooded swampy spots at the Andrews-Nourse conservation area. Marsh blue violets look somewhat similar to common blue violets (Viola papilionacea), but the stems of marsh blue violet tend to be longer, raising the flowers well above the leaves. The flowers themselves are usually also darker in the center.

Like many but not all violets, marsh violet can actually produce two kinds of blossoms. The first kind is the showy springtime flower that everyone notices, including pollinating insects. The second kind is a smaller, inconspicuous blossom that looks something like a developing bud and typically appears in the summer. This second kind never opens but fertilizes itself and also bears seeds later in the season. It serves as a sort of insurance policy, allowing the violet to produce seeds even when cross-pollination does not take place. Various other kinds of plants besides violets use this insurance policy.

Like other violets, the young leaves have been used in salads, the flowers have been candied, and the dried leaves used to make tea.

Stargrass, Daffodil or Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), Native


Small clumps of yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta) show their six-pointed yellow flowers in June. At other times, the plants are hard to notice among the grasses and other low vegetation. Yellow stargrass is a member of the daffodil family (Amaryllidaceae).

Dwarf Ginseng, Ginseng family (Araliaceae), Native

Dwarf Ginseng

Dwarf gingseng (Panax trifolius) is another sign of spring. This small plant puts up a modest, rounded cluster of feathery white blossoms in mid- to late May. It grows from a small, round tuber and remains above ground for a mere two months. These plants grow at the Andrews-Nourse conservation area.

Dwarf gingseng is unusual because the plants can produce male flowers one year and female flowers in another year. Possibly because seeds and fruit take a lot of energy to make, the largest plants are usually the ones that produce female flowers. Somewhat smaller plants usually produce male flowers. After bearing its yellowish berries, a plant usually has male flowers the next year. It has been estimated that every year about one fourth to one third of the plants in an area switch from producing one kind of flower to the producing the other.

The tubers have served as food, either raw or cooked. Native Americans made a tea from the plant to treat an assortment of ills. They also chewed the root for headaches and other problems.

Dwarf ginseng is not the same as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a larger plant that has become scarce due to over-picking. The leaves of American ginseng have five parts instead of three, like dwarf ginseng. American ginseng has been used as a substitute for yet another gingseng, Asian gingseng ( Panax gingseng), which has traditionally been widely used in China as a medicine, a tonic for increasing endurance, and an aphrodisiac.


Rue-Anemone, Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), Native


Rue-anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) bears delicate white flowers that resemble wood anemones or windflowers (Anemone quinquefolia) but has leaves that suggest tall meadow rue (Thalictrum polygamum). In any case, all three plants are members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The flowers can have five to ten petals. Rue-anemone blooms in woodlands, such as those at the Walkup and Robinson Memorial Reservation, in early spring.

Native American made a tea from the root to treat diarrhea and vomiting. The root is sometimes considered edible but may in fact be toxic.

Crown-Vetch, Pea family (Leguminosae), Alien


Clusters of purple-and-white blossoms of crown-vetch (Coronilla varia) bloom in attractive masses in sunny spots along roadsides in June. This vine grows beside some of the old dirt roads leading in to the Assabet side of the Andrews-Nourse conservation area, as well as along Lyman Street behind Burger King. In some locations crown-vetch has been planted as a ground cover along interstate highways. Also know as axseed, crown-vetch is in the pea family and benefits the soil by adding nitrogen.

Asiatic Dayflower, Spiderwort family (Commelinaceae), Alien

Crab Spider on Asiatic Dayflower Asiatic Dayflower

As the name suggests, Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) comes from Asia and bears flowers that last for a day or sometimes only a morning. It may have been imported as an ornamental, since the flower's two bright blue side petals are quite striking. Their resemblance to mouse ears has earned the plant another name, mouse flower. The small white bottom petal can easily go unnoticed.

The plants have become widespread as weeds, growing in yards and waste places. They bloom from spring to fall and sometimes serve as ground cover. The reclining stems root from the nodes where leaves grow.

The young leaves and stems of Asiatic dayflower can be used in salads or as cooked greens. The leaf tea has medicinal uses in China, where it has provided a gargle for sore throats. It has also been used there to alleviate symptoms of various infections, including flu, tonsillitis, and urinary infections.


Helleborine, Orchid family (Orchidaceae), Alien


Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) is the only non-native orchid that grows wild in New England. It can be found on the edges of trails at Sawink Farm Reservation or the north side of Lake Chauncy. It was first introduced from Europe to Syracuse, N.Y., in 1879. In our area it usually starts to bloom in mid-July. In other parts of North America, such as Wisconsin and southern Ontario, these plants can reach four or five feet tall and grow so prolifically that they are considered pests. Helleborine favors environments with maple or beech trees.


Blue Vervain, Vervain family (Verbenaceae), Native

Blue Vervain

Candelabra-like spikes of blue vervain (Verbena hastata) rise up in wet meadows and roadside ditches in late summer. The small purple or violet flowers bloom in rings around the spikes, starting at the bottom and moving up. The plants can be several feet tall. Blue vervain is also called simpler's joy, because simplers--people who gathered and sold herbs--found it easy to sell.

Most vervains are native to the Americas, but European vervain has long been entwined with people's beliefs. On one hand, vervain had a place in ancient Roman, Druid, Jewish, and Christian religious ceremonies. On the other hand, it was also associated with witchcraft and was supposedly used in witches' brews. Various folk beliefs have involved the use of vervain to bring either good fortune or ill.

Native Americans used vervain tea for various respiratory, digestive, and female problems. Vervain also had similar uses in European and American folk medicine.

Beechdrops, Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae), Native


In late summer, beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) plants come up under beech trees and put out many small, tubular, reddish-brown or brownish-purple flowers. The plants are parasitic on the roots of beech trees. They have flowers and many branches, but they are not green and have only scale-like brownish leaves. They look somewhat like bunches of twigs. Beechdrops grow under some of the beech trees along the trail in the woods off the Haskell Street ballfields.

In the past, people made tea from the fresh plants to treat intestinal problems such as diarrhea, as well as mouth and cold sores. The plant was also called called cancer root because it was supposed to be effective against cancer. Unfortunately, modern research has not supported this belief.


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Bernhardt, Peter, The Rose's Kiss: A Natural History of Flowers, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1999.

Culley, Theresa M., "Why Violets Are So Successful", The Violet Gazette, Autumn 2000, Volume 1, Number 4, p. 4, American Violet Society, 2/23/02.

Culver, David C., and Beattie, Andrew J., "Myrmecochory in Viola: Dynamics of Seed-Ant Interactions in Some West Virginia Species," Journal of Ecology, Volume 66, Issue 1 (Mar., 1978), 53-72.

Dwelley, Marilyn J., Spring Wildflowers of New England, Down East Enterprise, Inc., Camden, Maine, 1973.

Dwelley, Marilyn J., Summer and Fall Wildflowers of New England, Down East Enterprise, Inc., Camden, Maine, 1977.

Foster, Steven, and Duke, James A., A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2000.

Kricher, John C., and Morrison, Gordon, A Field Guide to Eastern Forests, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1972.

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Peterson, Lee Allen,Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977.

Peterson, Roger Tory, and McKenny, Margaret, A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1968.

Sanders, Jack, Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles: the Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers, Ragged Mountain Press, Camden, Maine, 1993.

Thieret, John W., Niering, William A., and Olmstead, Nancy C., National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Revised Edition, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 2001.

Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food, Ballantine Books, New York, 1980.

Other Resources

New England Wild Flower Society
The North American Native Plant Society and Wildflower Magazine
Westborough Charm Bracelet - Project linking 26 miles of local trails. Trail maps online.

A photo index of this site may be found here.
Our main wildflower site is found here
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Copyright © Anne A. Reid 1999-2002
Photographs copyright © Garry K. Kessler 1999-2002

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