TURTLEHEAD Chelone obliqua
The Psalmist praised God for his guidance and protection when he said, “You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” (Psalm 65:11 NIV).
The wildflower for today can be a pest in a wet season, that is “overflow with abundance” because it may pop up everywhere we don’t want it. It is common in the sense that it is not fussy about where it grows.
It may be found in almost every county throughout the Southeastern U.S., but is not widely common like asters, dandelions or kudzu. You have to seek it out, so allow me to give you some clues to aid your search. Specimens have been recorded from Florida to Minnesota.
Once you’ve seen this wildflower, you’ll never forget it. The shape of the bloom looks like a turtle’s head or a snake’s head. Thus, its other common name is snakehead.
Among herbalists, it is called turtlebloom. The species name cherlone is a Greek word meaning “tortoise.” Turtlehead is in the snapdragon family as is mullein and beardtongue.
Turtlehead flowers are white. They have only two lips but the body of the flower looks swollen. The upper lip extends slightly over the lower lip. The flowers appear in only one place, in clusters at the top of the single stem. Though there may be a dozen buds, only two or three blooms are open at the same time.
The leaves occur as opposite pairs. They are toothed and narrow as sketched. The leaf stem (petiole) is about 1/2 inch long. The leaves that are about midway between the ground and the blossoms are the largest.
The habitat for this plant is hard to find when the weather is dry. The turtlehead grows to about 5 feet high and prefers moist pastures, stream banks or amid woods moistened by spring water.
Medicinally, turtlehead is used today in concoctions for indigestion. An ointment of turtlehead is sold as a substitute for Preparation H, according to John Lust in his book, “The Herb Book.”
Tomorrow, Oct. 26, I will have a booth at the Olde Town Fall Festival in Conyers. I am having a clearance sale as I prepare to downsize my inventory, for example $40 originals for $5; $5 card-sets for $1; and $1 individual note cards for 10 cents, However, the wildflower books are not included in the sale.
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 St. in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.