ORRIN MORRIS: Horseweed traveled by ship from the colonies to Europe

HORSEWEED Erigeron canadensis

HORSEWEED Erigeron canadensis

The spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday needs to endure all year long. America’s history with the American Indians is far from virtuous, though it began in mutuality. Colonists would not have survived without the natives’ help.

In only a few decades, greed prevailed in religious, economic and political affairs. That story has been told in numerous books lauding the good times as well as the bad.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of speaking about wildflowers that were present in the early colonies. Over 40 of those I have identified in my book have been identified from colonists’ records and from notes taken by European botanists.

Thirty were specifically identified as native to America. Though there were many more present, these were noted because of their specific value as food or medicine.

The old records show that 29 were taught to the settlers by American Indians. The other one, generally regarded as a pest, is today’s species.


Erigeron canadensis

This wildflower is noted in botanical records as an unplanned immigrant to Europe. It is likely that the seeds of the horseweed accidentally got on board merchant ships returning from the colonies.

Horseweed blooms from July to frost. It is green with small white rays that never spread open during blooming process. Note the drawing in the offset. It measures about 1/4 inch.

Once seeds are mature, the head opens and the wind widely scatters the puffs. The puffs are a small version of the dandelion puffs (another wildflower taken to Europe for salad or as greens when cooked).

The leaves of this plant are narrow and linear. Those toward the base may be 6 inches long. Those leaves toward the top or ends of branches may be only 1/2 inch long. The stem is bristly and may reach 7 feet high, though I’ve seen none over 3 feet.

The horseweed can be found in most waste places including roadside ditches.

The name may have been a reference to the plant’s appearance, reminiscent of a horse’s tail. A more likely explanation is its usage by American Indians and settlers to treat several ailments of horses, such as strangury, a urinary problem.

Thirteen of the wildflowers that I shared in my presentation were imports. Several became pests, like oxeye daisy, fleabane, and stinging nettle. It is likely their seeds were accidentally brought in with the hay needed by early settlers for their cattle.

Several wildflowers were brought in by settlers as condiments, while the majority were folk remedies to treat medical problems, according to Jack Sanders’ “Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers.”

None of the early colonists found life easy. Survival would be hard, if not impossible, but for the generosity of the Indians. I imagine some of the early colonists voiced praises similar to the Psalmist who wrote, “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard; He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping” (Psalm 66:8-9).

May your songs of praise at worship remind you how our forefathers were blessed by God through the generosity of the natives.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.